An ambitious bid has been launched which could see the Norfolk coastline share a status with the likes of the Great Barrier Reef, Mount Etna and the Grand Canyon.

An application has been submitted to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to designate parts of the Norfolk coastline as a World Heritage Site.

Wetlands on England's east coast from the Humber down to the Thames are included in the application, which covers a significant expanse of the north and north-west Norfolk coastline, stretching from The Wash along to the Wells and Blakeney area.

Breydon Water, near Great Yarmouth, also forms part of the proposal, as do various protected wetlands in Suffolk.

If approved by the government, the east coast would be added to the UK's Tentative List of Natural World Heritage sites.

This forms the basis of the nation's World Heritage Site nominations to UNESCO (United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation).

It comes after a new report indicated the English east coast was of "outstanding universal value", providing a safe haven for more than a million migratory birds each winter.

Twenty-nine species - among them knot, black-tailed godwit, dark-bellied brent geese and bar-tailed godwit - are said to be dependent on the wetlands for their survival.

While he has not taken direct involvement in the bid, Jake Fiennes, head of conservation at the Holkham Estate, said there was nothing to suggest Norfolk does not have the ingredients for World Heritage status.

"I have a visited a few World Heritage Sites and they are deeply special places," he said.

"Do I think the Norfolk coast could possibly qualify for that as well? Yes, I think it has all the components. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a World Heritage Site that was also a working landscape.

"Having just had a biodiversity study carried out along the coast, it basically said we have some of the finest examples of salt marshes in Europe. We have some of the best examples of fresh water grazing marshes."

However, exercising caution, he added: "It is early days and I'll be interested to see how this pans out.

"The coast already has multiple designations and, by giving it World Heritage status, I am not necessarily sure what it would add."

Leading the charge on the bid is the RSPB, which has been endorsed by partners including the National Trust and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT).

Steve Rowland, RSPB England's area manger for Norfolk: "Here in Norfolk, The Wash is the UK's most important estuary for wild birds which depend on its mudflats to feed during their globe-spanning migrations.

"The spectacular sight of the murmurations of tens of thousands of shorebirds at Snettisham nature reserve is one of the seven wonders of British wildlife."

The recent review, authored by marine and coastal habitat consultants ABPmer, highlighted the importance of the east coast for its network of coastal wetlands.

Figures indicated that England's unique shores and inland marshes were crucial in allowing around a million birds to shelter from harsher conditions in Scandinavia, Canada, Greenland and Siberia.

Further inland, marshes offer valuable roosting sites and refuges for birds at high tide, as well as nesting grounds.

James Robinson, director of conservation at the WWT, said "This bid recognises the incredible value of wetlands for nature, people and the planet.

"The people of Norfolk have always known how fantastic the county’s wetlands are, but for them to be recognised on a world stage would help us speak up for these habitats and the importance of protecting them."

The UK currently has just two Natural World Heritage Sites: The Dorset and East Devon Coast and the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast.

Two overseas territories - the Gough Islands in the South Atlantic and Henderson Island in the South Pacific - are also designated sites.

If eventually accepted, the east coast would rub shoulders with some of the most iconic locations in the natural world, including the Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos Islands and Mount Kilimanjaro.

A decision from the DCMS is expected by early 2023.