Heritage Coasts represent stretches of our most beautiful, undeveloped coastline, which are managed to conserve their natural beauty and, where appropriate, to improve accessibility for visitors.
Many stretches are easily accessible by a network of public footpaths and bridleways, some of the most challenging of which are designated as National Trails.
Thirty-three per cent (1,057km) of scenic English coastline is conserved as 32 Heritage Coasts. The first Heritage Coast to be defined was the famous white chalk cliffs of Beachy Head in Sussex and the latest is the Durham Coast. Now much of our coastline, such as the sheer cliffs of Flamborough Head and Bempton, with their huge seabird colonies, is protected as part of our coastal heritage.
They are ‘defined’ rather than designated, as there is no statutory designation process like that associated with National Parks and AONBs. Definition is formalised by agreement between the relevant maritime local authorities and Natural England. Most are within the boundaries of National Parks or AONBs, although a small number including Lundy, the Durham Coast, and Flamborough Head stand alone.
The national purposes of Heritage Coasts are to:
Conserve, protect and enhance the natural beauty of the coasts, their marine flora and fauna, and their heritage features.
Facilitate and enhance their enjoyment, understanding and appreciation by the public.
Maintain and improve the health of inshore waters affecting Heritage Coasts and their beaches through appropriate environmental management measures.
Take account of the needs of agriculture, forestry and fishing, and of the economic and social needs of the small communities on these coasts.