The Wash and North Norfolk Coast SAC

Status: Designated


Site overview

This site is important because the sandbanks that are found here are some of the largest groupings of sandbanks found in the UK. These provide nursery grounds for young fish, including plaice, cod, and sole. On the gravel seabed lots of beautiful brittlestars live, catching their food by waving their ‘arms’ in the current. Ross worms also live here; these are an interesting, reef-building worm. Harbour seals also call the area home, they breed and haul-out of the sea here. This site has the largest colony of common seals in the UK, with some 7% of the total UK population. Several European otters can also be spotted here. ¬†Together, the Wash and North Norfolk Coast form one of the most important marine areas in the UK and European North Sea coast.¬†

MPA Type

Special Area of Conservation

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are strictly protected sites designated under European legislation. They contribute both to the UK MPA network and set up to protect habitat types and species considered to be most in need of conservation at a European level (excluding birds).

Designation date

1 October 1996

Surface Area

1,077.27 km2 (415.94 mi.2)


448.11 km (278.44 mi.)

Coordinates (central point)

52° 58' 21" North, 0° 29' 8" East

  • Common seal (Phoca vitulina)

    Mammals that feed on fish at sea but regularly haul out on to rocky shores or inter-tidal sandbanks to rest, or to give birth and to suckle their pups. Though called ‘common’ they are actually less numerous than the grey seal, which is the other species f

  • Otter (Lutra lutra)

    These fish-eating mammals completely disappeared from the waterways of most of central and southern England in just 50 years, their future now looks much brighter.

  • Atlantic salt meadows (Glauco-Puccinellietalia maritimae)

    Areas with specially adapted plants found in the upper reaches of saltmarshes that are not always reached by the tide. The habitat is used for grazing, but is also very important for birds.

  • Intertidal mudflats and sandflats (Mudflats and sandflats not covered by seawater at low tide)
  • Subtidal sandbanks

    Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time

  • Shallow inlets and bays (Shallow inlets and bays)
  • Glasswort and other annuals colonising mud and sand (Salicornia and other annuals colonising mud and sand)

    Specialised plants able to thrive in the lower reaches of saltmarshes where the vegetation is frequently flooded by the tide. It is important as it can help the development of more stable saltmarsh.

  • Mediterranean and thermo-Atlantic halophilous scrubs (Sarcocornetea fruticosi)

    Scrubby plants that look a lot like Mediterranean vegetation and grow in the uppermost levels of saltmarshes, often where there is a transition from saltmarsh to dunes. 

  • Reefs

    Areas where the bedrock, stable boulders and cobbles or structures created by animals arise from the surrounding seabed. They attract and provide a home to a huge variety of plant and animal life.

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Volunteer divers from Seasearch East are working closely with the Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservatrion Authority to better understand the distribution and vulnerability of habitats within this Marine Protected Area.

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Did you know?…

Over 500,000 records of undersea species and habitats have been collected by volunteer Seasearch divers

An area over 9 times the size of Wales is now in marine protected areas in the UK, but less than 1% is considered by MCS scientists to be well managed

Over 500,000 records of undersea species and habitats have been collected by volunteer Seasearch divers