National Character Area 76

North West Norfolk - Summary and Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity


North West Norfolk National Character Area (NCA) has a very open, rolling topography which contrasts with the surrounding coastal, fenland and other lowland NCAs. It extends from Downham Market on the edge of the Fens east towards Castle Acre, and skirts Fakenham before sweeping eastwards into a narrowing triangular area abutting the western edge of the Cromer Ridge.

This NCA is very important for agriculture with a large-scale arable and grassland landscape comprising extensive arable cropping and some areas of mixed farming, – the dominant livestock type is pigs. The name ‘Good Sands’, often applied to the eastern half of this area, derives from the fertility of the versatile light soils which distinguish the area from the low-fertility sands of Breckland to the south. Many of the villages are centred on greens or ponds and built from local vernacular materials – carstone and chalk in the west with flint becoming characteristic further east, reflecting the underlying geology. Aquifers underlying the NCA and extending well beyond its boundaries provide water both locally and regionally.

Key sites of conservation interest include internationally important heathland areas and acidic mire systems supporting equally important populations of natterjack toad and nationally important populations of nightjars. There are important peat deposits in many of the valley systems in the south and west of the NCA. There are several biological, geological and mixed-interest Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in the NCA but, while The Wash and the sea off the north Norfolk coast are of international importance for wildlife, only small areas of the NCA have international designations. Several inland sites, including Dersingham Bog, are designated internationally and also nationally as National Nature Reserves and SSSI. Twenty per cent of the NCA is within the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The history of North West Norfolk NCA is of great interest to the historian and the general public alike. The royal estate at Sandringham and the country houses such as Holkham Hall, with their associated estates, are important for tourism and many pilgrims visit the shrines dedicated to Mary at Walsingham. The many impressive and significant designated heritage assets within the NCA also include more than 130 Scheduled Monuments about 180 Grade I or II* Listed Buildings, two grade I and one grade II* Registered Park and Garden. Many tourists visit and stay in Hunstanton, Heacham, Snettisham and Dersingham.

The main pressures on the NCA arise from increased tourism, traffic and development – especially along the boundary with the North Norfolk Coast NCA and from King’s Lynn to Hunstanton where the A149 carries a great deal of traffic.

Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity (SEO)

See the Statements of Environmental Opportunity section for more details on the headlines listed below.


Protect and manage the nationally important agricultural landscape and plan for it to become more resilient to the likely impacts of climate change while seeking to enhance landscape, habitat integrity and connectivity for the benefit of wildlife and managed access for people.


Conserve, enhance and increase public awareness of the distinctive historic and rural landscape and local towns and villages, and improve public awareness, enjoyment and access to the NCA’s heritage and distinctive geology.


Protect and appropriately manage the woodland resource, combining commercial forestry and fuel production, expanding and improving connectivity between broadleaved woodlands for the benefit of wildlife, strengthening landscape character, and improving recreational opportunities.


Protect and manage the unique geological and biological resource of the NCA and plan for the restoration of semi-natural habitats and improved connectivity where opportunity arises to help make the landscape and its important species more resilient to future pressures for change.