Cromer’s chalk reef, thought to be Europe’s largest, is now a protected area

PUBLISHED: 06:30 17 January 2016 | UPDATED: 08:21 18 January 2016

Edible crab on the shoal chalk bed

Edible crab on the shoal chalk bed


It is one of our region’s most diverse wildlife habitats, home to hundreds of species from the common to the incredibly rare - but only the most intrepid among us will ever get to see it.

Creature on the sea bedCreature on the sea bed

Found just off the north Norfolk coast and around 20m below the waves, the Cromer shoal chalk beds are recognised internationally for their environmental significance.

Now, the area - thought to be Europe’s largest chalk reef - has been officially designated as a Marine Conservation Zone, as part of a government announcement creating 23 such sites around the country.

Twenty seven MCZs had already been established in UK waters, but this is the first for our region. The status is intended to protect the chalk reef and its habitats, and give added protection from future developments, such as wind farms and cable laying.

Fishing will continue in the area, but will be subject to another layer of regulation. The site is already covered by other bylaws - including the prevention of trawling, for instance - and the exact impact on the fishing industry is not yet known. However, it is possible the new status could lead to the prevention of crab and lobster potters coming from outside the area.

Fish at Cromer shoal chalk bedFish at Cromer shoal chalk bed

The new Norfolk zone covers an area 200m off the north Norfolk Coast to a distance of almost 10km. It begins just west of Weybourne and ends at Happisburgh, covering 321 square km.

The area is popular with divers and also supports the small-scale crab and lobster fishery vital to the character and economy of the area.

James Lingwood, a crab and lobster fisherman from Sheringham, said he was waiting to learn more about the impact: “If I have to move where I fish, it wouldn’t be viable and can’t be a fisherman. The impact of fishing over the last 200 years on the chalk beds hasn’t affected it – it’s still here. If it doesn’t have an adverse affect on me, then I support what they are doing for the environment.”

David North, from the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said: “We’ve been wanting this for a while, we were hoping it would come in the first phase, but it is just really good news that it has now come through. If you head to West Runton on low tide, you can see some chalk is exposed, that is the start of the shoal.”

Cromer shoal chalk bed

Dubbed the Great Barrier Reef of Norfolk, the chalk bed supports an array of species, among them tompot blennys, small-spotted catsharks, squat lobsters, brown and hermit crabs, sea squirts and pipefish, which are related to the seahorse.

There are also blue mussels, over 30 species of sea slug and sponges, including one unique to this area and not known anywhere else in the world.

The area is also visited by larger sea creatures, including harbour porpoises, grey and harbour seals, and, occasionally, sunfish and basking sharks.

The ‘blue belt’ protection now means that 8,000 square miles of waters off the UK, in 50 zones, are now covered by the environmental protection.

George Eustice, marine environment minister, said: “It’s vital that we protect our marine environment to ensure our seas remain healthy, our fishing industry remains prosperous and future generations can enjoy our beautiful beaches, coastline and waters.”

The 23 new sites are the second of three planned phases of the MCZ scheme. The first phase covered 3,731 square miles of water over 27 sites, while a third phase of proposed MCZs will be put out to wider public consultation in 2017, and designated in 2018.

The government are also expected to launch new Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) for harbour porpoise, and Special Protection Areas (SPA) to protect feeding and bathing areas used by birds such as puffins. This will add to those already designated, including at Cley and Holkham.


  • I'll second what Rob Spray said, in the long term the fisheries will be strengthened and improvedas the area will be protected from fishing and from dredging. This has taken years of campaigning and against the Governments declared policies, very good news.

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    ingo wagenknecht

    Monday, January 18, 2016

  • PJ - I wish more fishermen and divers had been involved in the MCZ process. There's a lot of intentional misinformation and uninformed fear over what might be involved. Although it might sound threatening where MCZs exist elsewhere, run well, they benefit wildlife and fisheries. Even no-take zones, which may sound detrimental to business, normally become very much more productive and when placed appropriately will increase the sustainable level of adjacent fisheries. The most likely effect of the designation is upper limits to protect the reef from large scale fishing displaced from other areas and keep the area favouring the small fishermen. At present there is no upper limit on many fisheries. The reef is in good condition but it gets damaged, better practice could improve it for everyone.

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    Rob Spray

    Sunday, January 17, 2016

  • With the news of mcz off the north norfolk coast, one fears the next step could be a no take zone which would endanger local fisherman lively hood. Having dived this Newley discovered area for 50 years on a weekly bases in the summer months, I have seen the reefs go poor from water pollution rather than over fishing and now they are pristine condition and extremely full of life. We as local divers like to keep things as they are rather than legislation, I support the local fight against it. Thanks Philip jones (pj)

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    Sunday, January 17, 2016

  • Strange, that all of a sudden it's "Cromer Chalk". I suppose to be "Sheringham Chalk" it just wouldn't be good enough, Cromer this, Cromer that! yada, yada, Cromer.

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    Sunday, January 17, 2016

  • Apparently there are no full time fishermen at Sheringham . Obviously the case is different for Cromer . I still thing this is a sustainable way of fishing though ,as long as they are not trawling. The conservationists should be concentrating more on sea pollution with all the the rubbish & fishing line washed up along those shores this week.

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    Sunday, January 17, 2016

  • more bad reporting since when has the cromer crab fisherys been small scale why not leave things that are not broken alone 200 years of fishing has not hurt this chalk reef do it would not be there now with the loss of fishing grounds to wind farms the fishermen do not want to lose more grounds on which to fish the interest of two or three divers should not be more inportant than the fishing familys and the people who rely on this for a living this is not just my view but the view of many who make a living from the sea in north norfolk and all around the coast of great britain help us to fight against this mcz

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    Sunday, January 17, 2016

  • Our local crab and lobster fisherman are hopefully going to be praised for their fishing practices rather than being penalised, if they were bad for the area there would not be anything left that was worth protecting.

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    Sunday, January 17, 2016

  • Having had decades of tropical marine natural history on our TV screens I cannot recall anything about our own waters. Surely this is new territory, literally, for a new style of programme to be broadcast. Is it just me or are there others who would relish such a venture?

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    Green Ink from Tunbridge Wells

    Sunday, January 17, 2016

  • Regulations regulations!!!!! Our fishermen have fished and protected this area for generations. It will be interesting to see how long before they are stopped from making their living and this beautiful area will be ruined. Leave nature alone please.

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    Sunday, January 17, 2016

  • Seems to me, in the case of the Cromer chalk, that everyone knew it was there and special, that people like Percy Trett wrote about it years ago, but along came some marine biologists out to make a research career for themselves and bang, there it is in the protected zone. Which is fine, so long as there was also equal research into how it had been used in the past by our local fishermen, how it had not been harmed by crab fishing and a management plan for the future which allowed the same level of activity to continue. Which there doesnt seem to be for any of the marine protection zones all around the coast. Shows a flagrant disregard for traditional ways of making a living in a way which would not be allowed to happen to the indigenous populations of New Zealand and Canada for instance. i am glad to see the zones protected, but fear the only people who will be making a living out of them without stricter controls, with be the marine biologists.

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    Daisy Roots

    Sunday, January 17, 2016

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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