Broads Plan 2022 - 2027

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1. Introduction

An iconic Broads landscape – St Benet’s Level Drainage Mill, River Thurne, by

1.1 About the Broads | 1.2 Broads Authority | 1.3 Broads Plan

1.1 About the Broads


The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads (‘the Broads’) is a special member of the UK family of 15 National Parks1. These protected landscapes are known collectively as ‘Britain’s Breathing Spaces’ – echoing the words of the late Norfolk naturalist Ted Ellis, who called the Broads a “breathing space for the cure of souls”.

The Broads has an equivalent status to a National Park under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, and the Broads Authority shares the same two purposes as the English, Welsh and Scottish National Parks. It also has a unique third purpose relating to the interests of navigation, and as such is defined under its own Act of Parliament known as the Broads Act2.

In 2015, the Broads Authority agreed to brand the area as the ‘Broads National Park’ to promote more clearly its credentials and special qualities. The Authority’s three purposes (section 1.2) remain unchanged.

Special qualities

Over the years, the Authority has asked people to identify the special qualities or features of  the Broads they value most. Common responses include:

  • The winding rivers and open water bodies – the ‘broads’
  • The variety of habitats
  • The abundance and rich diversity of wildlife
  • Navigable, lock-free waterways to explore and enjoy
  • The variety of patterns and textures in the landscape
  • Countryside access to both land and water
  • ‘Big sky’ views, dark skies and a sense of remoteness, tranquillity and wildness
  • The people, the visitors, the activities
  • The history and historic environment: Earth heritage, heritage assets, archaeology
  • Boating, boatbuilding and unique heritage fleets
  • Cultural assets, skills and traditions such as thatching and millwrighting
  • People’s interactions with the landscape
  • Waterside settlements and quiet villages

Profile and history

“On the evidence now available, they (the broads) are, beyond reasonable doubt, the flooded sites of former great peat pits, made in the natural fenland in medieval times”

The Broads is a distinctive and globally important wetland landscape and an important inland waterway. Home to around 6,500 people4, the Broads executive area (Map 1, Appendix C) covers around 303km2 in Norfolk and north Suffolk between the city of Norwich to the west and the coastal resorts of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft to the east, with a short coastal strip at Winterton and a tidal estuary at Breydon Water. Its boundaries are drawn tightly around the floodplains and lower reaches of three main rivers – the Bure, Yare and Waveney – and their tributaries, the Thurne, Ant, Wensum and Chet. The Broads is the basin at the bottom end of  the much larger Broadland Rivers Catchment (Maps 2 and 3, Appendix C), with water flowing through it and out into the North Sea.

Water, not surprisingly, is the vital element linking everything in the Broads. This low-lying, mainly open and undeveloped landscape is a rich mosaic of interconnected habitats including rivers, shallow lakes (‘broads’), fen, reed bed, drained marshland, wet woodland, saltmarsh, intertidal mudflats and sand dunes. Each habitat has its own special characteristics and is home to a wealth of species, many rare and some unique to the Broads within the UK.

The importance of the area is borne out by a range of international, national and local designations in recognition of its landscape, nature conservation and cultural features. These features have been shaped and nurtured over centuries by the way peat diggers, traders and merchants, reed and sedge cutters, thatchers, farmers and fishermen have lived and worked. The story of the Broads began in the Middle Ages. By the 12th century, much of east Norfolk had been cleared of its woodland for fuel and building materials. Over the next 350 years, peat digging (or turf cutting) was a major industry. As sea levels rose, the diggings were eventually abandoned and left to flood, creating the shallow stretches of water known as broads.

There are now around 63 broads, varying in size from tiny, isolated lakes to large expanses of open water. The connected broads and rivers were once part of an extensive network for communication and commerce, transporting goods such as fuel, building materials (including reed) and livestock and their products, especially wool. Villages and settlements commonly grew up around a parish staithe (landing stage), riverside common, ferry or bridge, making the most of the water environment.

The advent of the railways in the mid-19th century and motor vehicles in the 20th century brought most river-borne commerce to an end. In its place, the Broads waterways became increasingly popular for recreation, particularly boating, with more than 200km of navigable, lock-free rivers and open water bodies to be explored and enjoyed. Today, around eight million people a year visit the area, supporting thousands of jobs and having an impact of around £660m on the local economy5. Tourism, recreational boating and the marine industry, and farming and land management all continue to play an important role in maintaining and enhancing this unique, much loved landscape.

Challenges ahead

The Earth’s natural resources - water, air, soil, geology and all living things - provide us with a huge range of benefits: goods such as food, fresh water and energy; services such as clean air regulation and carbon storage; and many cultural values from health and wellbeing to jobs, community development and a sense of place. These public benefits are supported by other natural functions such as photosynthesis, soil formation, vegetation growth and water cycling, underpinned by biodiversity.

The UK Environment Act became law in November 2021 to address environmental protection and the delivery of the 25-year Environment Plan following Brexit. The Plan sets out the Government’s goals for nature recovery including clean air, clean and plentiful water, thriving plants and wildlife, a reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards such as flooding and drought, using resources from nature more sustainably and efficiently, and enhanced beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment. The Plan also sets goals to manage environmental pressures by mitigating and adapting to climate change, minimising waste, managing exposure to chemicals and enhancing biosecurity. It emphasises the need to get better at including environmental and social costs, benefits and trade-offs in policy, investment and planning decisions.

The Landscapes Review (2019) highlights that national protected landscapes like the Broads are fragile, that nature in them is in crisis as elsewhere, that communities are changing and that many people do not know about these places. The report emphasises that the way we protect and improve these landscapes needs urgent and radical change “if their natural beauty is to be in a better condition 70 years from today, even better to look at, far more biodiverse, and alive with people from all backgrounds and parts of the country”.

During this Broads Plan period, the biggest challenge for our easterly, low-lying wetland landscape is adapting to climate change and sea level rise, especially in terms of managing water. Other significant issues are the state of the UK economy and the cost of living crisis; the rollout of post-Brexit legislation, particularly for agricultural transition and the management of farmland, habitats and species; the growth in demand for housing and infrastructure in the East of England; and the potential ongoing impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on our local communities, on tourism and other businesses, and on recreational trends.

The Broads is like a vast mosaic; lose one fragment and its overall integrity is flawed. This means that rather than focusing on single or favourable interests (such as food production, flood protection or economic benefit) possibly at the expense of others, we must manage this precious ecosystem as a dynamic, complex and interdependent whole.

We cannot predict exactly what the Broads will look like in 50 to 100 years’ time, but we must accept that it is likely to change. By improving our knowledge and acting now, we can help to make sure it will always remain a special and distinctive place, richer in biodiversity and enjoyed by all.

1.2 Broads Authority

The Broads Authority is a statutory body with very similar responsibilities to those of the English, Welsh and Scottish National Park Authorities. The Authority was established under the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988. Further provisions for the management of the navigation area were made through the Broads Authority Act 2009. It is the local planning authority, and a harbour and navigation authority.

The distinctive shape of the Broads executive area (Map 1) comes from its boundary being drawn tightly around the flood plains and lower reaches of the main rivers (Bure, Yare and Waveney) and their tributaries (Thurne, Ant, Wensum and Chet).

The Authority has a duty to manage the Broads for the following three purposes:

  • Conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Broads;
  • Promoting opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the Broads by the public; and
  • Protecting the interests of navigation.

In practice, how much weight is given by the Authority to any of these purposes will depend upon the particular circumstances under consideration. In its commitment to integrated management, the Authority and its Broads Plan partners always look for potential win-win solutions, rather than setting the different purposes at odds with each other.

In managing the area, the Authority must also have regard to:

  • The national importance of the Broads as an area of natural beauty and one which affords opportunities for open-air recreation;
  • The desirability of protecting the natural resources of the Broads from damage; and
  • The needs of agriculture and forestry and the economic and social interests of those who live or work in the Broads.

The Authority also has the duty to maintain the navigation area for the purposes of navigation to such standard as appears to it to be reasonably required, and take such steps to improve and develop it as it thinks fit. It may carry out works, and do other things in relation to any adjacent waters in or over which it has sufficient rights or interest, for the improvement of navigation on those waters.

1.3 Broads Plan

Working in partnership

The Broads Plan is the single most important strategy for the Broads National Park, setting out a long-term vision and strategic objectives to benefit its landscape, environment, local communities and visitors. As a high-level overarching plan, it draws together and guides a wide range of plans, programmes and policies relevant to the area. The Broads Plan is reviewed and updated on a regular basis, and this Plan covers the period 2022 to 2027.

While the Broads Authority is responsible for producing the Broads Plan, its success depends on strong partnership working to make the best use of shared knowledge, effort and resources. Key delivery partners are highlighted in Section 3 and in Appendix A.

Funding and resources

As the body responsible for managing the Broads, the Broads Authority receives a Government funded National Park Grant (NPG), which was £3.4m in 2021/22, and navigation income funded by boat toll payers (£3.4m in 2020/21).

In the three years to 2022 this income has come under pressure from rising costs, the impacts of Covid-19  and a static NPG (and in real terms, the Authority’s 2021/22 NPG is a reduction of 42% compared with its 2010/11 grant). In terms  of navigation income, a comparison of boat toll data in 2017 (when the last Broads Plan was adopted) and 2021 shows the number of private boats remaining fairly steady; however, despite continuing investment in new boats, there has been a decrease in the hire boat fleet and more losses are predicted6. Future navigation income is uncertain, due largely to the ongoing effects of the UK economy and Covid-19 on boat  ownership and on the domestic holiday market.

The Landscapes Review says the Government’s approach to funding national protected landscapes like the Broads is not as diverse and sustainable as it should be. The Government’s response7 is that there is limited scope to increase the core grant by the scale suggested, or to provide funding settlements that extend beyond a spending review period. However, it supports the recommendation for protected landscapes to source more investment from private and blended financing models for nature recovery and nature-based solutions, and to pursue commercial and sponsorship opportunities provided by each landscape’s unique brand identity.

Along with its Broads Plan partners, the Broads Authority works hard to increase its financial resources (most significantly in recent years from EU grants and the National Lottery Heritage Fund). The Authority is a member of the National Parks Partnerships, which supports closer links between businesses and protected landscapes for commercial and practical benefits, while other initiatives such as ‘Love the Broads’ help  to fund local community projects. Resources are about people too, and the dedicated volunteers who give their time and practical support to many organisations in the Broads are an invaluable asset.

As a high-level strategy, the Broads Plan does not contain detailed costings; this information will be within the lower level business plans and operational work programmes delivering the Broads Plan’s strategic objectives.

Assessing the Plan’s impacts (SA and HRA)

The Broads Plan review is subject to Sustainability Appraisal (SA) to assess any significant environmental, economic and social impacts of implementing the updated plan. The outcome of the SA on the Broads Plan 2022-27 was that most of its strategic objectives (Section 3) show either a positive or neutral impact on the Sustainability Objectives in the Sustainability Appraisal framework. A small number show uncertain impacts, depending on the implementation of the objective, and none show a negative impact.

A Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) was also carried out to assess the impacts of this Broads Plan on local sites protected by the Habitats Regulations, including Ramsar Sites, Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas. The HRA concluded that the Plan would have no adverse impact on site integrity at any Habitats Site, either alone or in combination.

It is important to note that plans, programmes and works to implement the strategic objectives in the Broads Plan will need to be undertaken in a manner that is sensitive to the environment. Works will also need to comply with relevant permits and controls to ensure environmental protection on Habitats Sites. Where relevant such plans, programmes and works will be subject to SA and HRA8.

Monitoring and reporting

Aerial image of Buckenham Ferry on a misty morning

Monitoring indicators are shown against specific objectives in Tables 3-8 (Section C). We also use a ‘State of the Broads’ dataset to help assess change over time. This is usually updated as part of the Broads Plan review, but we are awaiting the publication of new national indicators for protected landscapes in delivering on the Government’s goals for nature recovery and for climate mitigation and adaptation. When we have this information, we will publish the updated ‘State of the Broads’ dataset on our website.

At the time of adopting this Plan, the Authority is working with key delivery partners to improve how we monitor and report on progress. We will post information on our website at Strategy (

Local Plan for the Broads

As the local planning authority, the Broads Authority is responsible for setting spatial planning policies for the Broads executive area. The Local Plan for the Broads supports the strategic aims of the Broads Plan, through policies that are used in determining planning applications, and guidance on development and land use. The next Local Plan is due to be adopted in 2024. A number of town and parish councils partly within the Broads executive area have adopted, or are developing, Neighbourhood Plans.

The special qualities and features of the Broads are also influenced by development in adjoining areas, particularly given its narrow executive boundary and low-lying, open landscape. Under the Localism Act the Authority and its neighbouring planning authorities, county councils and public bodies have a ‘duty to cooperate’ to make the most of cross-boundary strategic planning matters such as housing, transport, open space and demands on water and other resources.

Next section: Vision and Principles

1 - National Parks UK // British National Parks
2 - Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988
3 - JM Lambert, JN Jennings and CT Smith in ‘The Broads’, EA Ellis, 1965
4 - Mid-2020 census (experimental statistics)
5 - STEAM data 2019, Broads including influence area
6 - Private boats: 10,646 in Nov 2017 and 11,179 in Nov 2021; Hire boats: 1158 in Nov 2017 and 1118 in Nov 2021; a fall of about 40 hire boats in 2022 is predicted.
7 - Landscapes review (National Parks and AONBs): government response - GOV.UK (
8 - The same SA scoping exercise was used for this Broads Plan and the emerging Local Plan for the Broads. The Local Plan SA will assess reasonable alternatives in accordance with the Planning and Compulsory  Purchase Act 2004.