Maritime Cliffs & Slope

Maritime Cliffs & Slope - John Miller - Explore Kent

Current Status

Maritime chalk cliffs occur along the Kent coast between Kingsdown and Folkestone and around the Isle of Thanet. Softer clay cliffs and slopes occur on the north side of the Isle of Sheppey, on the Isle of Grain and at Reculver. Overall the Kent Habitat Survey 2003 records 127 ha of maritime cliff and slope. Almost all (96%) is designated as SSSI. The 8 km stretch of undefended coastline between Dover and Kingsdown is designated as a candidate SAC for vegetated sea cliffs of the Atlantic and Baltic coasts and represents the best example of vegetated chalk cliff in the country.

The cliffs are regionally important for cliff breeding birds such as peregrines, fulmars and kittiwakes. Rare plants such as wild cabbage, Nottingham catchfly, oxtongue broomrape and early spider orchid occur on the cliff-tops and crevices. There are bat roost sites in the caves and rare invertebrates associated with the cliff-top grassland and soft sandy cliffs. The marine cliffs are nationally important sites for studies of geology, geomorphology/coastal processes and fossils.


  • Stabilisation either by concretion of face of hard cliffs or anti-slumping works on soft cliffs, back-filling of sea caves for stabilisation, covering of geological exposures. Examples of stabilisation can be seen along the north Kent and Thanet coast.
  • Sea defence works affecting the natural supply of sediment and thus altering coastal processes. Sea level rise may also have a long term affect on coastal processes.
  • Development (on cliff-top or below face, divorcing cliff from sea/natural processes).
  • Cultivation of cliff-top zone. The natural erosion of cliffs back towards cultivated fields leads to a loss of cliff-top grassland.
  • Lack of management of cliff-top grassland leading to scrub development and loss of habitat.

Current Action

  • Almost all (96%) of maritime cliff and slope is notified as SSSI, protecting the habitat from directly damaging activity such as development and sea defence works, though there is little control over changes to coastal processes. Arable reversion along cliff tops is being targeted through agri-environment schemes.
  • The National Trust are the major landowner of the cliffs between Dover and Kingsdown, and manage the cliff top grassland by grazing, mowing and cutting scrub. The White Cliffs Countryside Project also play a major role in managing land at St Margaret's bay, Western Heights and Folkestone Warren.
  • Recent surveys for oxtongue broomrape have confirmed good populations of this species on the chalk cliffs around Dover.


  1. Maintain the extent of all maritime cliffs and slopes site.

  2. Maintain under positive management 115 ha of coastal maritime cliff and slope by 2010 and a total of 122 ha by 2026

  3. Enhance and restore 12 ha of maritime cliff & slope by 2026. Ensure there is no net loss maritime cliff & slope in Kent up to 2026

Relevant Habitat Action Plans

The relevant UK Habitat Action Plans:

The relevant UK Species Action Plans:

The relevant Kent Habitat Action Plans:

  • Lowland calcareous grassland
  • Littoral & sublittoral chalk