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Sand dunes in Norfolk… enjoy them and protect them

Norfolk has some of the best examples of coastal sand dunes in the world, stretching from Great Yarmouth all the way around to The Wash.

The dunes are a home to a wide range of plants and wildlife, but they also play a vital role in protecting the coast from erosion caused by wind, waves and tidal surges.

But their popularity with beach-goers means they can get damaged too.

At first glance, the dunes might appear to be a monoculture of Marram grass (marram is Old Norse for sea marr and straw or reed halmr) with little value for biodiversity but think again!

There are four main stages of sand dunes, with each providing a unique habitat that supports many species.

A young (embryo) dune is created when sand blown across the beach hits an obstacle and starts to build up and become colonised by Sand couch and Lyme grass.

As they gather more sand and sentiment they grow above the high water mark, at which point they are called Yellow Dune, and this is when Marram grass can colonise and stabilise the dunes.

Over time the dune begins to act as an immobile windbreak which prevents more sand building up and so less suited to Marram. These are known as Grey Dunes and as nutrients build up the Marram grass begins to die out and species such as Red fescue grass take over. The alkaline dunes of north Norfolk attract other species such as sand sedge and creeping willow.


Dune Slacks are the last stage, when wind channels contours through the sand and below the water table. This creates a habitat ideal for species such as willow trees, orchids, sedge, rushes and marsh pennywort.

The Dune Slacks of north Norfolk provide breeding grounds for the nationally-protected natter-jack toad, while on the eastern coast of Norfolk you’ll find nesting sites for globally endangered seabirds.

Where to find sand dunes in Norfolk

There are expanses of dunes around Norfolk’s 90 miles of coast.

Here are some of the best…

North Norfolk

  • Holkham
  • Holmes Dunes National Nature Reserve
  • Old Hunstanton
  • Brancaster
  • Burnham Overy Staithe

East Norfolk

  • Winterton-on-Sea
  • Horsey Gap
  • Great Yarmouth North
  • Caister
  • Hemsby
  • Sea Palling
  • Scratby

You’re very welcome to do these things…

* Follow the information given on signposts and use designated areas and routes.
* Keep your dog on its lead whilst walking through the dunes – it should be indicated where it’s fine to let them roam free!
* Talk to the friendly wardens – they’re there to help.
* Make the most of viewing platforms – enjoy watching wildlife from a distance which doesn’t scare them.
* Take part in events organised on site by dune managers – we’d love it if you could help us to protect our dunes!
* If you see litter, please help dune formation by removing it, especially on the strandline.

Please don’t do these things…

* Ignore sign posts and use roped off, sensitive areas
* Let your dog off its lead to run through the dunes – please wait until you reach the areas where dogs can be off lead with no risks to them or wildlife.
* Do not get within 10 metres of the seals – they are weary of people and although they may seem cute and docile, they have large teeth and will bite if they feel threatened.
* Approach nesting birds or their nests. Birds are terrified of us and our dogs. Please keep clear if you see any signs of nesting birds.
* Light barbecues in the dunes. Dune fires cost our local fire services a lot of time and money every summer, and it impacts invisible biodiversity in our dunes.

Why Norfolk’s coast is the most dynamic in the UK