Natural Heritage

When you look out from the Beach Huts in Cleethorpes you are looking at a complex natural environment made up of sand dunes, wildflower meadow, salt marsh, mudflats and sand flats and the Humber Estuary which is a well protected environment. So learn more about this environment, what you can see when you visit and how it formed.

When you look out across the Humber Estuary from Beach Hut #9 on Marine Embankment in Cleethorpes the landscape you see is complex and valuable. The Bygone Beachcombers project is a historical investigation into Cleethorpes seaside holidays and it wouldn’t be complete without understanding a little more about the Natural Environment that forms the Cleethorpes beach line.

If you had visited the area way back in the 13th century the view would have been very different. In fact the Beach Huts would be underwater, as until the 13th century all of the land you see now up to the edge of where the boating lakes are would have been underwater.

However, during the 13th to 15th centuries enough storms develop to begin the depositing of sand dunes. These have grown and developed over the centuries to roll forward to the extent you see them now.

Structure of the natural environment

Outside Beach Hut #9 is a man made grassed area but this quickly extends out firstly to sand dunes, then to salt marshes, sand flats and mud flats, then to the waters of the Humber Estuary and then finally, just beyond the line of the two sea forts, out into open sea – the North Sea.

Images (via Google Maps & Bing Maps) show clearly the complexities of the shoreline and these areas:

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Even more recently in the 19th century visitors to Cleethorpes would have seen a different environment. Visitors would have seen a much more clearly defined coastline with more in the way of a sandy beach.   In fact, it is only in the past 30-40 years that the sand dunes in front of Marine Embankment and the beach huts have formed – they are some of the newest sand dunes along the area.

However, although the centuries have changed the natural environment of the area to what you see now, visitors in another century are likely now to see much of the same.  Everything you see is now protected in a number of ways so that this current natural environment, which is so good for wildlife, flora and fauna and particularly birds, should now be around for a long time to come.

You can begin to understand a little more about the are when you look at a view of the Humber overall:

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The North Sea – out beyond the sea forts – is a saltwater habitat.  However, this side of the forts the freshwater from the River Humber meets the saltwater from the North Sea creating a estuarine area – the Humber Estuary.

The estuary is where the silt carried in the River Humber settles out on to the bed and gradually builds up until it forms mud banks. These mud banks are where crustaceans, such as mussels and cockles, bury themselves along with marine worms, such as lug and rag worms, which are food for wading birds. It is such a rich food environment for migratory wintering birds that there are 150,000 wading birds on the Estuary at any one time.

Sand dunes start by collecting wind-blown sand which collects further wind-blown sand. Marram grass is the first to colonise the dune which then stabilises it with its roots and collects debris which provides nutrients that other plant species need to start growing. This succession continues and results in the wild flower meadows that are currently present in Cleethorpes which are one of the best examples of wild flower meadows in Lincolnshire.

So the natural environment you see around Beach Hut #9 includes wildflower meadows growing on fairly recent sand dunes which lead out to the salt marsh (formally known as the Atlantic salt meadows) and then onto the mudflats and sandflats.  A much more complex environment than you might expect at first glance!

Protecting the area

Some of these types of natural salt marsh, sand flats and sand dunes are far less common than you would expect and are very important for wildlife – especially birds.  So the Humber Estuary is designated as:

a SSSI (Site of Scientific Special Interest)
a SPA (Specially Protected Area)
a SAC (Special Area of Conservation)
a RAMSAR site (International Wetland Convention in Ramsar)
and an EMS (European Marine Site)

Together, all these designations create the Humber Estuary European Marine Site (EMS).

These various designations mean that the natural environment you see is likely to be protected for the long term now.

The Humber Management Scheme (HMS) provides a coordinated and joined up approach for the management of the Humber Estuary EMS.  With support from both statutory and non-statutory organisations, actions are developed and delivered to bring the estuary into what is known as ‘favourable condition’.

All of the information about the Humber Management Scheme can be found on the website of Humber Nature Partnership ( just here

If you want to find out more about the Humber Estuary as a whole, the species protected there and how that protection is carried out, then the link above is well worth following through.

The management plan for the Humber Management Scheme (for 2016) can be downloaded here

And another document, describing the Humber Estuary environment in a lot of detail can be found here

Images looking back towards Marine Embankment across the salt marshes and mud flats:

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The Humber Estuary mud banks are where crustaceans, such as mussels and cockles, bury themselves along with marine worms, such as lug and rag worms, which are food for wading birds. It is such a rich food environment for migratory wintering birds that there are 150,000 wading birds on the Estuary at any one time.

Species of birds include Curlew, which are on Britain’s conservation Red List meaning that they are globally threatened, Redshank, with their red legs, Knot, Dunlin, Turnstone, and Oystercatchers.


The bank in front of the beach hut is left uncut during the flowering season so that the wild plants flower and go to seed to ensure their survival for the following year. For the flowers to produce seed they need to be visited by pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, who are then also helped as they feed on the nectar. Plants that can be seen in front of the hut are Yarrow, with its white flowers and dark green feathery leaves, and Red clover, with its three lobed leaves.

Visit the Beach Hut

If you visit Beach Hut #9 you’ll find a lot more information in our Natural Environment resources pack to help you identify birds and wildlife along Marine Embankment.