The Broads: Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats

9.1 Introduction

In this section, we carry out a ‘SWOT’ analysis that identifies some of the principal sustainability strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that are potentially relevant to the Broads Plan (the strategic management plan for the Broads) and to the Local Plan for the Broads.

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9.2 Strengths

  1. Extensive, diverse, and very highly valued landscape, habitats, flora, fauna and cultural and heritage assets.
  2. A unique wetland and low-lying area and status equivalent to a National Park.
  3. Formal nature conservation designations of the Broads and many areas within it provide relatively high levels of policy protection or conservation. A high proportion of the SSSI units in the Broads are in favourable or unfavourable recovering condition, which signifies mostly appropriate actions and management operations are being undertaken.
  4. Farmed and managed landscape, the majority being privately owned.
  5. A short undeveloped stretch of coastline.
  6. High levels of tranquillity through much of the Broads; in particular, a sense of remoteness in some parts despite these being located close to concentrations of housing and industry. Also, most of the area has intrinsic dark skies.
  7. Attractive environment, providing the basis for most of the Broads’ economy and recreation for residents and visitors.
  8. Britain's largest protected wetland and third largest inland waterway.
  9. High level of interaction with the surrounding area, with complementary provision of facilities and opportunities. For example, employment and development opportunities and community facilities in surrounding districts, towns and in Norwich also serve Broads’ residents, while the Broads provides recreational and business opportunities to those from the wider area.
  10. Thriving hire boat industry contributing to the local economy.
  11. Many organisations and individuals caring for or promoting the value of various aspects of the Broads.
  12. Importance of the Broads for the identity and recreation of a much wider area. The Broads represent a significant area for outdoor recreation and access to green space, supporting the mental and physical wellbeing of residents and visitors of all ages, through provision of open space for physical activity and creation of opportunities for social engagement.
  13. The age profile of the area shows more older people than in the surrounding area. Older people are often motivated, educated, and experienced and play an important role in the community.
  14. Substantial, engaged community of private boat owners.
  15. Local boating clubs and classes that enable local people (whether or not boat owners), including children, to acquire and hone the skills required to become good sailors.
  16. Many heritage assets, including conservation areas and drainage mills.
  17. The international significance of the paleo-archaeological remains within the Broads and the unusually well-preserved organic remains.
  18. A wealth of archaeological deposits that are not well represented elsewhere within the country.
  19. Good collaborative working with stakeholders and interest groups.
  20. An area providing many ecosystem services, as evidenced in the Norfolk and Suffolk natural capital assets compendium[6] .
  21. Peatland areas and opportunities for improved wetland areas, carbon storage, holding flood waters, storing water for droughts, nature enchantment.

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9.3 Weaknesses

  1. Some of the protected habitats failing to meet target ecological conditions and/or vulnerable to change because of, for example, fragmentation, inappropriate water and land management, pressure from nearby development and conflicting water regimes leading to complex and costly hydrological interventions.
  2. Lowland grazing economics poor and may be at risk of farm subsidy changes.
  3. Some areas of fen and all lakes and rivers in unfavourable condition and some are in declining condition and reliant on public grants for Nature Recovery.
  4. Almost the whole of the Broads area subject to, or at risk of, flooding.
  5. Some listed buildings and other heritage assets at risk, and particular problems in finding compatible and beneficial uses that could help secure the restoration and maintenance of heritage assets such as wind pumps/drainage mills.
  6. Continuing (though declining) problems of water quality in the rivers; ground water quality problems.
  7. Difficulty of modernising and adapting existing buildings and uses, and accommodating new ones, due to flood prone nature of the area.
  8. Decline in traditional industries such as millwrights, thatchers and reed and sedge cutters.
  9. High reliance on tourism, which can leave the economy vulnerable and mean a loss of resilience because of changes to the holiday/recreational patterns. Indeed, the access restrictions because of COVID19 has had a large impact on tourism (as well as many other sectors of the local and national economy).
  10. Car dependence of local communities and businesses and fragmentation of settlements.
  11. Depleted local community and/or visitor facilities, often through displacement by higher value activities (principally housing).
  12. Tensions and perceptions of incompatibility between interests of conservation, farming, development, recreation, tourism, navigation, and local communities, and between local interests and the national value of the Broads.
  13. The ageing population could lead to imbalance in the community.
  14. Lack of housing that is affordable resulting in some people having to commute to places of work.
  15. Deficiencies of moorings in some places to meet the needs of various water space users.
  16. Some low bridges which prevent larger boats from passing, and some narrow waterways which could limit potential for navigation.
  17. Some boats unable to navigate as intended due to operational issues of some swing bridges, particular when the weather is hot.
  18. Increasing pressures for land use change around areas of settlement.
  19. Resourcing difficulties for organisations that help to manage the environmental assets.
  20. Lack of certainty of how the new framework for agricultural subsidies will support Nature Recovery.
  21. Lack of public transport in rural areas
  22. Rural connectivity – some areas not covered by broadband.
  23. Unsustainable wildfowling.
  24. Increased risk of salinisation of previously freshwater wetlands.
  25. Susceptible to climate change impacts such as variable rainfall patterns and increased incidence of saltwater incursion leading to significant habitat and landscape change.

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9.4 Opportunities

  1. Climate change:
    1. Likely impacts that may create opportunities such as changes in flora, fauna and landscape, patterns of recreation and changes in agriculture and its practices.
    2. Adaption through erecting, raising, and strengthening flood defences, realignment in more flood prone locations to make more space for water and linking wildlife habitats to provide resilience.
    3. Evolving low carbon lifestyles, construction and patterns of land use and settlement.
    4. Opportunities to link with other strategic initiatives (Local Nature Recovery Strategies etc) to build in nature-based solutions for climate change adaptation.
    5. Transition to more brackish conditions provide opportunity to create saltmarsh which could trap Carbon.
  2. Maintaining the recovery and improvement of water quality achieved over the last few decades by long-term and ongoing investment across a range of agencies, particularly water companies.
  3. Potential to put in place environmental and recreational management measures as part of the implementation of major housing and employment growth outside but close to the Broads area.
  4. Potential for restoration and enhancement zones towards nature recovery within and surrounding the Broads, including to connect to coastal and other biodiversity rich wetland areas.
  5. Potential for revival in the use of the area’s rivers and railways for freight and passenger traffic.
  6. Changes in patterns of recreation and expectations of visitors.
  7. Potential for future complementary and mutually supportive actions and benefits across environmental, recreational, navigation, and local community issues.
  8. Provision of jobs, facilities, services, and homes for local residents through the development plans of constituent Local Authorities.
  9. The status of the Broads as equivalent to a National Park – held in high regard with most stakeholders.
  10. Private investment opportunities for carbon, water quality and potentially Biodiversity Net Gain.
  11. Training opportunities for traditional skills and crafts.
  12. Encouraging sustainability through the design of buildings as well as innovative designs, new technologies and building in resilience.
  13. Opportunities to encourage both local residents and visitors to join one of the many boating clubs, take part in organised events, go on formal sailing courses and gain recognised Royal Yachting Association (RYA) qualifications.
  14. Opportunities to Improve awareness of general public and residents of the special qualities of the Broads and their role in preserving these qualities (see section 5.2).
  15. Many train stations in/near to the Broads.
  16. Highway improvements and the benefits to the community and economy they could bring.
  17. Flat land favouring healthy travel modes and active travel opportunities.
  18. Because of the COVID19 pandemic, more people will /may holiday in the UK and in the Broads and become aware of the special qualities of the Broads. Businesses could appropriately diversify and become more resilient.
  19. More home-based working lessening carbon impacts while retaining wealth in the locality.
  20. Opportunities for natural flood management to minimise impacts of coastal flood management, creating new habitats that help to mitigate the impacts of a changing climate i.e. coastal flooding and saltwater incursion. Sensitive/natural approach would have benefits for wildlife and people.
  21. Agricultural subsidy change promoting greater focus on environmental enhancements as the Broads is able to achieve so many benefits.
  22. Protection and appropriate enhancement of heritage assets.
  23. Gradual transition to vehicles powered by non-fossil fuels, leading to reduction in pollution, quieter transport modes.
  24. Improvement of access to the Broads for residents and visitors with limited mobility.

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9.5 Threats

  1. Climate change - likely impacts that may be threats:
    1. Increased frequency and severity of all sources of flooding
    2. Increased risk of coastal inundation
    3. Increased frequency and severity of drought, with impact on water resources available to all sectors
    4. Changes to rainfall patterns.
    5. Change in grazing regimes as floodplain grassland becomes unable to support grazing animals, economically and on welfare grounds (increased salinity, lack of drinking water for stock resulting from drought).
    6. Deterioration of water quality and abstraction of water resources
    7. Increased frequency and severity of saline incursion into fresh water systems
    8. Loss of freshwater dependant flora, fauna, and landscape in some areas
    9. Changes in patterns of recreation
    10. Changes in agriculture and its practices including large scale horse grazing
  2. Redundancy/degradation of infrastructure and material assets
  3. Erosion of the special character of the area’s landscape and built heritage through:
    1. Loss of archaeology built/landscape and cultural heritage assets.
    2. deterioration/change in the landscape character of the area as saline impacts become more prominent and spread upriver.
    3. Coastal erosion.
    4. Incremental ‘suburbanisation’ and other changes, including through domestic and holiday home extensions/enlargements and paraphernalia:
      1. Metalling of unmade tracks;
      2. ‘Horsiculture’ – proliferation of pony paddocks, stables, Manèges, etc.;
      3. Road, rail and navigation improvements/changes;
      4. Proliferation of advertisements.
  4. Potential landscape and economic effects of change, including that driven by market changes (e.g. food prices, biofuel).
  5. Changes in patterns of recreation, including impacts of decline in hire boat fleet and growth of private boat ownership; higher expectation of facilities for leisure plots, holiday chalets and other accommodation.
  6. Declining boatyard and boatbuilding industry.
  7. Loss of swing bridges to fixed bridges.
  8. Major housing and employment growth planned for nearby areas, and associated potential impacts such as:
    1. Water quality and quantity loss arising from effluent input and water supply extraction.
    2. Increased recreational pressure, on both visitor ‘honeypots’ and remoter, more tranquil and sensitive localities. Also linked to tourism.
    3. Traffic growth impacting on reduced safe cycling and horse-riding routes.
  9. Changes to economies, practices and ways of life that sustained local and traditional industries and skills (such as millwrights, reed and sedge cutters and boat builders) that generated and sustained the landscapes we see today.
  10. Unsympathetic design, construction and alterations.
  11. Loss of local community and/or visitor facilities, often through displacement by higher value activities (principally housing).
  12. High house prices in the rural areas could affect the willingness of some to train in traditional skills such as reed and sedge cutting as they would need to commute.
  13. Recent and likely future cuts in budgets and consequent challenges organisations face in light of reduced funds.
  14. Paleo-environmental and organic archaeological remains are especially vulnerable and significant in the Broads.
  15. Potential damage to Habitat Sites through activities in the Broads and more development in the wider area.
  16. Major highway improvements and the threat to the special qualities of the Broads that could result.
  17. Further loss of moorings.
  18. Vulnerability of subsidised public transport services within the Broads Authority Executive Area (bus and rail).
  19. Drying out of wetland and oxidation of peat, leading to loss of finite environmental and archaeological archives as well as release of stored carbon.
  20. Coastal protection work, which may alter the dynamics of marine erosion and sediment transport.
  21. COVID19 impacts on health and the economy.
  22. As a consequence of the COVID19 pandemic, more people will /may holiday in the UK and in the Broads.
  23. Non-native species and plant disease and challenges for meeting biosecurity in a connected wetland.
  24. Boat traffic sediment stirring and direct disturbance of wildlife.
  25. Shortage of reed for thatching due to higher water levels and the detrimental impact on reedbeds and reed harvesting.