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The Wash

Designated a Special Protection Area under the European Union Birds Directive

The Wash. The largest embayment in England. This phenomenal seascape on England’s east coast, extending from Lincolnshire’s windswept Gibraltar Point to the banded cliffs of Hunstanton in North Norfolk comprises a myriad of coastal habitats that support a breath-taking diversity of marine life. The birds of The Wash fly the flag for British avian wildlife.

The historic reclamation of marshlands around The Wash has left four unique near-linear tidal rivers: The Great Ouse, Nene, Welland and Witham. These rivers, flow through saltmarsh, over mud and sandflats into the deep central channels of the embayment. The Wash is dominated by saltmarsh, intertidal banks of sand and mud, sandy and shingle beaches and subtidal sandy sediments.

Click here to learn more about life in sand

Click here to learn more about life in mud

Intertidal mud and sand flats support a variety of polychaete worms and bivalve molluscs, including cockle and mussel beds, which alongside algae provide rich foraging grounds for many bird species. These include the dark bellied brent geese, oystercatcher, common scoter, sanderling, gadwall, curlew, pintail, shelduck, dunlin, knot, bar tailed- and black tailed godwit.

Brent enjoying rich foraging grounds . Image credit, N. Smith

Greylag on Holbeach saltmarsh. Image credit, G. Wall


The extensive saltmarsh provides important roosting habitat for many bird species, including redshank, curlew, pintail and dunlin. The saltmarsh also houses a nutritious food resource for dark bellied brent geese, wigeon, pintail and dunlin. The latter of which also roosts alongside oystercatchers on arable fields.

The agricultural and pasture land that borders the much of The Wash saltmarsh provide foraging grounds for pink footed goose and overspill foraging for curlew, oystercatcher, dunlin and black tailed godwit when the tides are at their highest. Redshank, grey plover and black- and bar-tailed godwit enjoy unrestricted views of the surrounding area and take advantage of bare ground and short vegetation to roost. Tern species, sanderling and grey plover use the sandy, shingle and gravel beaches to roost. Wigeon roost at Wainfleet, black bout at Wolfreton Sands and pink footed goose can be found roosting at Freiston, Snettisham and Terrington.

Sanderling feeding on the flats at Snettisham. Image credit, Pat Eyeons.


This Marine Protected Area is designated a Special Protection Area under the European Commission Birds Directive and UK Habitats Regulations. For more information about the protected wildlife at The Wash please visit the Natural England Conservation Advice website.

Local Designations

North Norfolk Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Promoting an understanding and appreciation of North Norfolk's natural beauty and the importance of local sustainable development. Image credit, C. Knights More

RAMSAR Wetlands sites

Gibraltar Point, The Wash and North Norfolk have been designated RAMSAR sites to protect their wetlands and associated resources. Image Credit, S. Bosley. More

Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Gibraltar Point, The Wash and North Norfolk have been designated SSSI's in recognition of their important ecological and geological value to the UK. Image credit, C. Knights More

National Nature Reserves

Gibraltar Point, The Wash, Titchwell, Holme , Holkham, Cley and Blakeney coasts have all been designated NNR's to protect their habitats, species and geology. More

Cromer Shoal Marine Conservation Zone

Chalk beds are home to a beautiful diversity of sea-life such as sponges, algae, crabs and herring and are protected at Cromer, Norfolk. Image credit, Rob Spray and Dawn Watson. More

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