UK Coastal Habitats


Perennial glasswort Sarcocornia perenne © Peter RhindCoastal vegetated shingle at Ballyquintin Point ASSI, Northern Ireland © Paul Corbett.Cliffs of Staffa © Helen BakerSand dunes at Hunstanton, Norfolk © JNCCRuddy turnstone Arenaria interpres © Pierre Tellier


The UK coastline is one of the longest in Europe. It is also one of the most varied and dynamic, constantly evolving and shifting over time. The coast provides a home for many highly specialised plants and animals.


The UK coast supports a range of well-known habitat types. Coastal saltmarsh and Coastal shingle habitats occur within reach of the tides and are subject to periodic saltwater inundation and wave action. Pioneer and salt- and flood-tolerant species are characteristic of this environment. Further inland, where the sea seldom reaches, Coastal sand dune, Machair and Coastal cliff habitats occur. These areas are typically windswept, arid and brackish. Dune areas, in particular, support highly specialised plants. Moving inland, habitats become increasingly terrestrial, with various types of coastal grassland, heathland and scrub types predominating.


UK coastal habitats are a priority for nature conservation. This is partly due to the variety of specialised species associated with them, but also because of their naturalness, fragility, scarcity and intrinsic appeal. Accordingly, there are seventeen coastal habitat types listed under Annex I of the EU Habitats Directive and five coastal priority habitats listed under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.


Use the following page links to find out more about coastal habitats: