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Replacing Stiffkey Bridge

Purple sea lavender surrounding a pool of water in a marsh landscape with purple-grey moody, cloudy sky above, which is reflected in the pool
Stiffkey marshes Blakeney Nature Reserve, Norfolk | © National Trust Images/Justin Minns

Stiffkey, which is situated just across the water from Blakeney National Nature Reserve, is home to one of the country's richest saltmarshes for wildlife. Flooded daily by the tide it is an important conservation area for breeding birds.

Stiffkey Bridge

In 2023, the National Trust decided to proceed with a project to replace the bridge at Stiffkey.

We had been maintaining the former bridge and had previously repaired and extended it. However, due to coastal erosion and further widening of the channel, as well as the age of the bridge, it was removed on safety grounds in 2022, following specialist advice from an external structural engineer.

As a charity, when faced with any decision to replace infrastructure, we always ask whether replacement is the right option.

We therefore paused our work in 2022 to review the situation. We needed to weigh up the cost, the impact on wildlife in a protected area, sustainability in the face of sea level rise, as well as the provision of access.

On this occasion, due to the tidal environment, we felt we should proceed with replacing the bridge on health and safety grounds, with the caveat that we still need to secure planning permission.

Replacing the bridge

The practical construction of a bridge is relatively straightforward.

What makes this project complex is the multiple ownership, multiple designations, multiple permissions and the construction regulations we need to follow to ensure what we build is legally compliant, robust, safe and suitable for this inter-tidal coastal location.

In terms of ownership, the National Trust ownership starts above the mean high-water mark. This means the bridge will also span an area in ownership by the Crown Estate and Natural England, who lease land from the Crown Estate.

Due to the sensitive location of the site, we will need to obtain planning permission and consent from the Marine Management Organisation before a bridge can be built.

In one of the biggest areas of saltmarsh

The National Trust plays an important role in providing access to some of the most special natural places in the UK, including here at Stiffkey, one of the biggest areas of saltmarsh in Europe.

We also have a responsibility to the wildlife that lives on the marsh, which can be affected by footfall and disturbance. As in many places, we have to balance access for people with conservation. On this occasion, the health and safety risk is such that we have decided to replace the bridge.

We hope people will understand why it was important for us to carry out a full review and the decision we've made.

Timescale and next steps

In June 2023, the National Trust appointed Conisbee as their lead consultant, who have experience in designing bridges in a similar environment and also bring further support from a Quantity Surveyor.

From conversations with multiple organisations, we now have a clearer timescale for the project.

The last of the surveys to help inform the design of the bridge have been completed and we have now had the chance to review the initial designs.

We will now enter a detailed design and pre-app phase, engaging with the organisations we need to seek formal permission from, to take onboard any feedback they have with regards to our design options before we submit our final planning application in spring 2024.

It will then take up to 12 weeks for planning and four months for Marine Management Organisation permission to be reviewed and outcomes shared. If we’re successful we will then tender for materials and construction.

Subject to permissions and to ensure birds have finished breeding in the area, the earliest and most realistic build date we’re working to is September, with the aim that the replacement bridge is in place and completed by autumn 2024.

We’re continuing to do all that we can, as quickly as we can to find a permanent solution. Signage reminding people of tide times and that the bridge has been removed will remain in place until then.

Location of the bridge

The location of the bridge that's been removed is indicated on the map below (ringed in red). It was located a short distance from the National Trust's car park in Stiffkey.

Map of Stiffkey saltmarshes with a red ring around the bridge that has been removed
The red ring indicates the position of the bridge that has been removed | © Ordnance Survey

Contact us

If you would like to contact us about our plans to replace Stiffkey Bridge, please email

Frequently asked questions

Latest news

April 2024

Planning consent

Since we revealed our concept design for the replacement bridge at Stiffkey in January, we’ve been developing our detailed design and progressing the work we need to do to obtain planning consent. We have submitted our pre-application documents to North Norfolk District Council and we are on track to submit our full planning application later this spring. 

In the last couple of months, we’ve expanded our project team and brought on board Lanpro, who are supporting us as Ecologists and Planning Consultants on this project. We’ve also been working closely with Natural England who are supporting us with our Shadow Habitat Regulations Assessment, which will help support our application. 

Next, we need to complete an Ecological Impact Assessment and adhere to the new laws around Biodiversity Net Gain, all of which are required when building infrastructure in a designated site. We’re on track to have this material ready to submit as part of our full planning application. 

The additional work undertaken now and the extra conversations we’re having with stakeholders will enable us to give greater clarity to those reviewing the planning application when it’s submitted and bring efficiencies further down the line. 

We remain on track to build the bridge this autumn, subject to planning permission being approved.

Common seal colony on the beach at Blakeney National Nature Reserve

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