Nearshore Waters

Key Characteristics

  • Sheltered or moderately sheltered coastal waters, adjacent to long curving bays backed by shingle beaches, vegetated dunes, low cliffs and occasional coastal
  • Active length of coast with a fluctuating patchwork of erosion and Dynamic nature of coastline illustrated by events in history such as the inundation of coastal settlements and the creation of shingle features resulting from the movement of sediment over time.
  • Sea floor underlain by superficial sediments largely masking underlying
  • Relatively shallow waters up to approximately 20 metres deep with sand bank systems parallel to the coastline in
  • Interaction of terrestrial, coastal and offshore areas important for biodiversity, evidenced by extent of national and international
  • Strategically important coastline with numerous historic military
  • Commercial fishing activity is relatively intense along the Beached fishing boats are characteristic in some locations.
  • Popular tourist area, notably for walking and nature watching with activity focussed on visitor destinations and tourist towns located along the
  • Sea fishing, sailing and water-sports activity throughout, albeit centred upon destination towns and approaches to navigable
  • Strong cultural associations, notably in
  • Strong visual relationship with the predominantly rural coastline. Occasional coastal towns and large-scale developments including energy and military infrastructure evident in some views act as orientation points/navigation
  • Expansive views offshore encompass largely undeveloped Offshore shipping and wind farms visible in adjacent seascape character types, subject to weather conditions.
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The Nearshore Waters SCT occupies the shallower coastal waters associated with the largely rural Suffolk coastline between Old Felixstowe and Lowestoft, which is adjacent to the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB and includes areas defined as the Suffolk Heritage Coast.

The southern limits of the Nearshore Waters SCT are defined by the International Ports and Approaches SCT. To the north is the Developed Nearshore Waters SCT. The landward extent of the SCT is broadly defined by the low water mark. Its seaward extent is generally between 5 and 8km (2.7-4.3nm) from the shoreline, where it meets the Coastal Waters SCT.

Physical Influences

The shape of the coastline is formed by a series of headlands, referred to locally as nesses, defining sheltered or moderately sheltered curving bays and havens. Some headlands, for example Thorpe Ness, are formed of the underlying geology, whereas others are mobile features created by the accumulation of sand and shingle. For example, the sweeping spit of Orfordness, which defines the boundary between Hollesley Bay and Aldeburgh Bay, has been created by the action of longshore drift and is one of the largest and most important shingle structures on the British coast. Benacre Ness is an example of a small cuspate foreland moving north, counter to the direction of sediment transport.

The largely rural coastline of low cliffs, vegetated dunes sitting behind shingle and occasionally sandy beaches forms the backdrop to the marine environment. Agricultural landscapes typically form the coastal strip, although some stretches of coast are interrupted by broad inlets, now almost entirely filled with estuarine sediments to create extensive open fens and levels. Small coastal settlements and towns also exert a localised influence.

This is an active length of coast with a fluctuating patchwork of erosion and accretion. The active nature of the coast can be seen in some locations – such as the coastal cliffs at Dunwich and Covehithe, which are described as the most rapidly eroding areas on the English coastcvii.

Offshore, the underlying solid geology is largely masked by superficial deposits of intermixed gravels, sands and muds. However, an outcrop of Pleistocene Coralline Crag is a notable feature off the Thorpe Ness headland.

Waters are typically up-to approximately 20 metres in depth although extend to up-to 30m in depth in places towards the seaward extent of the SCT. However, water depths are not uniform, with areas of deeper and shallower water throughout, often resulting from natural features including sandbanks running parallel to the coastline. These features are generally submerged but can cause wave breaking at low tide. They can also influence the colour of water locally. Examples of these features included the Sizewell Bank which acts as a natural wave break, Aldeburgh Napes and Aldeburgh Ridge (or Onion). All present a navigational hazard to shipping and can create areas of turbulence.

Coastal forms and the complex interaction between geological and marine processes has created important wildlife areas, recognised by the coastal edge and nearshore waters falling almost entirely within various international and national nature conservation designations. The majority of the coastal seascape is included within the Outer Thames Estuary SPA which is classified for the protection of the largest aggregation of wintering red-throated diver in the UK and foraging areas for common tern and little tern during the breeding season.

Cultural Influences

The recession of the coastline over many thousands of years and hazardous coastal waters means that there is the potential for evidence of submerged landscapes and archaeological remains dating to multiple periods. Dramatic events caused by storms, and the effects of erosion and deposition over a long period of time have also been recorded, providing detailed insight into the history and evolution of the coastline.

The much-studied settlement of Dunwich is perhaps the most well-known historic town to have been lost to the sea in the study area. It was at one time one of the largest seaports in eastern England but now much of the former settlement lies offshore, having been engulfed by tidal surges during the Medieval period. The fortunes of other medieval coastal towns and trading centres have also been influenced by the dynamic nature of the coastline. For example, Aldeburgh was an important medieval port and had a thriving shipbuilding industry. However, in the 16th century trade declined as a result silting of the river. Orford was similarly affected and the spit that once offered safe anchorage continued to increase in length reducing the accessibility of the river to large ships. The mouth of the estuary is now several kilometres south of Orford.

The busy and sometimes hazardous nature of the coastal waters is evidenced in the high occurrence of wreck sites. Perhaps the most notable is the Dunwich Bank Wreck, the only designated wreck within the study area. Other examples include three shipwrecks, all sunk by mines during World War 1. These are located on or near the Cutler Sandbank. Two were naval vessels and one was carrying coal from the Tyne to London and their presence indicates the important role of the East Anglian coast to both the defence of Britain and coastal trading.

Military sites and structures are located along the coast providing evidence of its strategic importance over many centuries. Aldeburgh’s name derives from the ‘Old Fort’ and Orford is the site of an impressive 12th century castle keep. Several Martello Towers survive along the coast dating to the early 19th century. During the 20th century, defences reflected constraints imposed by the coastal landscape as well as by military priorities. Many stretches of beach were mined, and anti-tank scaffolding, cubes and ditches were installed to prevent assault craft from landing. Minsmere itself was flooded during the Second World War as a defence against invading troops landing on this vulnerable stretch of the coast. Orfordness is particularly significant from a military perspective. The remote and isolated character of the ness made it the ideal location for military activity and it provides evidence of the evolving priorities and advancements in offensive and defensive technologies over a prolonged period.

The Thorpe Ness crag, sandbanks and other features on the seabed along the coastline are a particular focus for commercial fishing. Small vessels fishing these waters operate out of ports and marinas and beach launches. Potting is deployed to catch species of shellfish (including lobsters, edible crabs and whelks) and trawling, long lining and netting are used to catch fish including cod, bass, sole, thornback ray, whiting, herring and smooth hound. Buoys and flags can often be seen marking pots and nets.

The coastline is popular amongst tourists and offers a range of visitor destinations and activities. Southwold, Thorpeness and Aldeburgh are particularly popular seaside towns, with a strong relationship to the coast and sea. Southwold has significant Victorian architecture, including a promenade, villas and a pier reflecting its growth as a seaside resort. The beach is also noted for its colourful beach huts. Thorpeness was established as a holiday resort in the early twentieth century and its design was inspired by Ebenezer Howard’s garden city principlescviii.

Popular visitor attractions along the coast include the National Trust’s Coastguard Cottages at Dunwich, Orford Ness Nature Reserve and RSPB Minsmere Reserve. A network of rights of way provides access to and along significant stretches of beach and coastal edge. Of particular importance is the Suffolk Coast Path. Recreational angling is popular off several beaches including Aldeburgh, Dunwich, Southwold, Sizewell, Thorpeness, Walberswick and Minsmere. Offshore sailing and water-sports activity is located throughout, albeit centred upon destination towns and approaches to the navigable rivers. A RYA general boating area follows the coast between Aldeburgh and Lowestoft. Recreational diving boats are launched from Southwoldcix.

Submarine cables meet the coastline at several locations, including Aldeburgh and at Sizewell, which is the site of two generations of nuclear power station.

This stretch of coastline has strong associations artists. Dunwich, Southwold and Walberswick were particularly popular amongst painters and scenes illustrate beaches littered with fishing boats, huts and kit, such as nets and pots (for example ‘Southwold’ by Edwin Hayes and ‘Eastcliffe, Southwold’ by Walter Crane) and busy coastal waters and harbours (for example ‘Orford Ness Lighthouse’ by William Daniell RA and John Moores ‘Slaughden Quay’). The treacherous nature of these nearshore waters was also referenced in renderings of wrecks – such as the coloured lithograph of the ‘Wreck of the Princess Augusta on Southwold Beach’ by J.B. Chrome.

A mural on Southwold Pier and plaque on his former home attest to the connection between George Orwell and the town. Benjamin Britten is closely associated with Aldeburgh and established the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948. He is celebrated in a steel sculpture located on Aldeburgh Beach.

Aesthetic and Perceptual Qualities

The absence of a coast road and widespread development imparts a rural character to the terrestrial hinterland of the Nearshore Waters SCT. This is reflected in the designation of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB and Suffolk Heritage Coast definition. Some large-scale developments are accommodated on the coastal edge, including the nuclear power stations at Sizewell and military structures at Orfordness. There are also several coastal settlements and small towns which exert an influence locally.

The nearshore waters are largely undeveloped. However occasional structures projecting into the sea are notable including Southwold Pier, groynes on beaches such as at Aldeburgh and Southwold, harbour walls at Walberswick at the entrance to the River Blyth, Minsmere Sluice outfall and Sizewell A intake and outfall headworks structures.

The Nearshore Waters SCT typically encompasses large scale panoramic views out to sea and along the coastline. From many locations on and offshore, the morphology of sweeping bays, headlands and shingle structures such as Orfordness can be appreciated, although these features become flattened towards the seaward extent of the SCT to form a low narrow horizon.

Several landmarks are evident along this stretch of the coastline. These include the sweeping lines of Orfordness, larger settlements such as Southwold and Aldeburgh and prominent structures such as the Orfordness Lighthouse and power stations at Sizewell. Closer to the coast, navigation aids include features such as the cottages at Shingle Street, Hollesley Prison chimney and the masts and pagodas at Orford Ness. Church towers are particularly distinctive along the coast, such as the partially ruined Church of St Andrew Covehithe.

Views offshore are typically across vast expanses of open sea. Subject to conditions, pleasure and fishing craft are sometimes visible and there are frequently views to large container ships and tankers typically moving across or at anchor on the horizon.

When visibility is good, there are distant seaward views from some locations on the coast and at sea to the south-west towards the Greater Gabbard offshore wind farm. There are also very distant seaward views towards the wind turbines of the London Array and Gunfleet Sands wind farms when seaward visibility is excellent.

The proximity and visibility of the coastline limits the sense of exposure and remoteness at sea, albeit this is dependent on weather and atmospheric conditions.