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The Economic Value of Wetlands: Insights from the Broads

Updated: Mar 4

A Treasure of Nature and Economy

The Broads is not just a haven for wildlife and a place of natural beauty, but also a vital cog in the economic engine of the region. As we celebrate World Wetlands Day, it's crucial to shed light on the variety of ways these wetlands contribute to our economy.


The Broads serene waterways, diverse wildlife, and lush landscapes, attract around 7 million visitors each year, drawn to the tranquillity and unique experiences they offer. This influx of tourists is a boon for the local economy. In fact, tourism in the Broads contributed £711m to the local economy in 2022. Visitors flock to the area for boating, wildlife watching, angling and simply to enjoy the peace of the wetlands, spending money on accommodations, dining, and local attractions.

This flow of tourism pounds helps sustain many small businesses and supporting over 6900 jobs in the region, vitally important for a population of just 6400. However 2023 are expected to be lower, for a number of reasons the Broads was a noticeably quieter season.

The hospitality sector in the Broads, comprising hotels, bed and breakfasts, and eateries, is intimately tied to the health of these wetlands. With the influx of tourists, these establishments see a steady stream of guests seeking a taste of local cuisine and a comfortable place to stay.

Dawn in Fleet Dyke
Broads Tourism Is a Vital Part of the Broads Economy (credit David Edleston)

Farming: The Lifeline of the Broads

Beyond its touristic appeal, the Broads are an agricultural powerhouse. The fertile lands surrounding the waterways make it an ideal location for farming, significantly contributing to both local and national economies. The region is responsible for over 25% of the UK's sugar beet production, processed at Cantley along the River Yare. Agriculture value is estimated at over £200,000 yearly in food production alone. Agriculture in the Broads also plays a pivotal role in conservation, with initiatives like the Broads Grazing Marsh Scheme, Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs), Countryside Stewardship, and the recent Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS), bringing additional conservation-focused investments and aiding in preserving the diverse wildlife inhabiting these working lands.

Broads Agriculture
Broads Agriculture is Nationally Important for Food Production (Credit Broads Authority)

Part of the National Park Family

The term "Broads National Park" is a divisive within the local community, yet the Broads role within this national family is undeniably unique. Contributing significantly to the UK economy, national parks collectively add over £6.3 billion each year. The parks receive critical financial support through government grants. In the fiscal year 2022-2023, the Broads Authority received a substantial sum of over £4.7 million though the National Park system. This funding was the biggest single source of income accounting for nearly half of its total income of £10.1 million.

Bearded Tit in the Norfolk Broads
Broads Wildlife Ultimately Drives Much of The Tourism Economy

Concerns regarding conservation efforts possibly overshadowing the rich heritage in farming, navigation, and access within the Broads are recognised. However, legislation exists to protect these traditional practices, ensuring a balanced approach. Significantly, 50% of visitors are drawn to the Broads for its scenery and wildlife, highlighting the importance of conserving these aspects for the local economy. The £4.7 million grant, crucial for maintaining these attractions, is indispensable. If the Broads were to lose their status within this 'national family', sourcing similar funds would be a considerable challenge, potentially impacting the very essence that attracts visitors.


Angling: A Fisherman's Delight

Angling is a significant economic contributor in the Broads, known for its abundant fish life and attracting numerous fishing enthusiasts. Remarkably, 18% of all visitors to the Broads engage in fishing, generating an economic impact exceeding £150 million. With 1.4 million angler days per year, the Broads surpass Scotland in popularity among anglers. The region's low-lying, tidal rivers are governed by ancient laws allowing free fishing, unlike other protected landscapes where fishing typically incurs a fee. These laws, while preserving tradition, also mean a potential revenue of £5-6 million per annum from angling is foregone, which could otherwise aid in supporting and enhancing the fishery.

Given the Broads' status as the UK’s largest inland fishery, it's fitting that the UK's biggest fishing tackle shop, Angling Direct, originated there. Starting from a small shop in Hoveton, in the heart of the Broads, Angling Direct has expanded to become the country's largest fishing retailer.

broads fishing
Angling is an Important Part of The Broads Economy as well as Broads Heritage

Ecosystem Services and Their Value to the Broads

The Norfolk Broads, a jewel in the UK's natural landscape, offer more than just picturesque views; they provide vital ecosystem services. Often difficult to quantifying 2012, Natural England highlighted their monetary worth.

The public's willingness to pay for the Broads' biodiversity is valued at £18.7 million. Land and water-based recreational activities contribute a staggering £320 million to the economy. The Broads' provision of drinking water is valued at £17.5 million, with additional substantial values assigned to agricultural and industrial water supply.

The reduction of carbon emissions, valued between £56,049 and £240,210, underscores the Broads' role in climate mitigation. This financial assessment exemplifies the harmonious coexistence of natural beauty and economic prosperity, emphasizing the Broads' vital role in the region's welfare.

Charities and Voluntary Sector: Overlooked Value

Volunteers and charities like the Norfolk Wildlife Trust play a synergistic role in the economic and ecological well-being of the Norfolk Broads. Volunteers contribute through unpaid work in habitat restoration, wildlife monitoring, and visitor education, significantly enhancing the region's appeal and ecological balance.

The Norfolk Wildlife Trust, through its fundraising efforts amounting to approximately £5 million annually, invests in various conservation projects. This combination of volunteer labour and charity funding is crucial in maintaining the Broads, attracting tourism, and supporting local businesses, thereby creating a substantial economic impact beyond the measurable financial contributions.

The Broads landscape is more than a mere backdrop to our lives. It's a dynamic arena where economy, ecology, and community intertwine, each thread as vital as the next. From Agricultural production, pivotal contributions of charities like the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, through to the intrinsic value of the Broads' ecosystem services, every element contributes to the rich mosaic of life here. As stewards of this precious environment, it's our collective responsibility to cherish, protect, and sustain the Broads, ensuring they continue to thrive as a source of natural splendour and economic vitality for generations to come. Celebrating World Wetlands Day, we acknowledge the Broads' economic significance, ensuring their protection and management for future generations.

 As we consider the future of the Broads, the role of the Broads Society becomes ever more significant. Its efforts in conservation, advocacy, and community engagement are essential. Joining the Society is not just a way to support their efforts; it's an opportunity to be part of a community that is deeply committed to the stewardship of one of the UK's most precious natural landscapes. Whether you are a local resident, a frequent visitor, or someone who holds the Broads dear, becoming a member of the Broads Society is a meaningful way to contribute to the preservation and enhancement of this unique area.



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