Maritime Cliff and Slope

Maritime cliffs and slopes comprise sloping to vertical faces on the coastline where a break in slope is formed by slippage and/or coastal erosion. The cliff-top is the area receiving a maritime influence from salt spray, which may continue for up to 500 metres inland.

Chalk cliffs at Seven Sisters

Photo: Sussex Wildlife Trust

Why is it important?

  • Cliff faces provide important nesting sites for birds such as Rock Pipit and Kittiwake
  • The terrestrial and maritime influences have led to evolution of specialist invertebrates many of which are now scarce; in Sussex this includes species of beetle, fly and spider.
  • A number of rare plants are found on cliff tops including Hoary Stock and Early Gentian.
  • Cliff bases can have important assemblages of lichens and algae.
  • They provide sites for studying rock formations and geomorphology. Sussex’s cliffs have also yielded important fossils including ancient plants, reptiles and mammals.
  • Sussex’s cliffs also provide archaeological interest, with finds from a range of time periods including Palaeolithic, Iron Age and Saxon.

Maritime Cliff and Slope in Sussex

Sussex has just over 50 kilometres of cliff and slope, including more than 14% of the European coastal chalk exposure at Seven Sisters. The majority of this resource is in East Sussex, where both “hard” chalk cliffs and “soft” sandstone cliffs can be found. Chalk cliffs erode to a vertical profile and can be found predominantly between Brighton and Eastbourne. Sandstone cliffs usually form less steep slopes and are prone to frequent slumps and landslips, these cliffs are found between Bexhill and Hastings.

What are the threats?

  • “Coastal squeeze” resulting from coastal development restricting the ability of coastal habitats to retreat landwards with natural erosion, and fragmenting the habitat.
  • Disruption of natural coastal processes caused by coastal defence work or offshore dredging can affect natural sediment systems and may actually increase erosion.
  • Recreation can cause disturbance to animals and speed up cliff top erosion.
  • Lack of management on cliff tops can result in loss of grassland to scrub.
  • Increased run-off from arable land or urban areas can accelerate erosion as well as introducing pollution to the cliff and marine environment.

Some associated species

  • Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis
  • Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
  • Chalk Carpet Scotopteryx bipunctaria
  • Bee Wolf Philanthus triangulum
  • Sea Carrot Daucus carota ssp. gummifer
  • Sea Plantain Plantago maritima


Photo: Nick Wright

Advice on maritime cliff and slope


Sussex Targets

Biodiversity Action Reporting System Website

Download the Maritime Cliff and Slope Habitat Action Plan