Author: Jim Scott - Site Manager of RSPB Snettisham Reserves

Snettisham is rich in history. The village, the beach and the reserve all have a story to tell.

A discovery of precious metals, known as the Snettisham Hoard, suggests that people have settled in Snettisham village since the Iron Age. Later, people opted to establish communities in this lovely little village, with some of the oldest buildings date back to 1500. Like most Norfolk villages, throughout the ages, Snettisham’s economy has been largely agricultural. However, the coastal position and beach have also contributed largely to the local economy. The beach itself has acted as a haven for smuggling and below the surface lay large quantities of Norfolk Sandstone – the quarries of which have been worked by hand for hundreds of years, providing building materials for local dwellings.

By Ealdgyth (Own work), CC BY-SA 3.0,

Yet Norfolk Sandstone is not the only sought after material of Snettisham... the beach is a rich resource.

The Etna Stone and Shingle company extracted gravel (stone, shingle and sand) from Snettisham beach between the 1920s and 1959. During the early years of World War 2, a RAF gunnery range was established at Snettisham and in 1943 this became the 8AF Provisional Gunnery School under the American Army and Air Force, providing training for B-17 air gunners. The military buildings were a combination of requisitioned bungalows and chalets that stood along the beach front. Trainee gunners lived under canvas on the site of the Diglea holiday camp adjacent to the main camp.

These incredible photos come from the British Resistance Archive and show the Snettisham Auxiliary Unit Patrol (specially trained, highly secret groups of volunteers created by the British government, during the Second World War, with the aim of resisting the expected occupation of the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany). Sgt George Rex Carter (pictured first on left and center second row respectively) worked for Etna Stone & Shingle Company, Snettisham, who produced many items used in the construction of RAF camps during the war. 

Gravel from the quarries was used to build airstrips and aerodromes across East Anglia. The USAAF also constructed a concrete road that ran from Snettisham to Dersingham. This roadway was destroyed in the floods of 1953 and remnants of concrete blocks can be seen in the reserve's lagoons (pits) today. At some point the site became a Prisoner of War camp, first housing Italian, and then German prisoners.

The quarries finally closed in 1961 and the northern area adjacent to the old military camp was built over and turned into a caravan park. The gravel pits, which had filled with sea water during the 1949 and 1953 floods were never reclaimed and are now home to a large variety of wading birds and wildfowl.  

Another distinctive landmark on the shoreline is the ruins of the wooden jetty on the beach that was used to load shingle onto boats to be transported across The Wash. However, it is possible that this structure could date back to the 19th Century when Snettisham beach was used by smugglers to avoid landing cargo at nearby King’s Lynn port.

Snettisham jetty - Emily Kench

The RSPB had the opportunity to purchase the lagoons and pieces of adjacent land in 1972, and seeing the potential it had to act as a haven for wildlife jumped at the chance.  Various leased areas have been added subsequently.

Since its purchase, the RSPB has begun to manage the land for wildlife, enhancing, creating and supporting habitats. The reserve now offers refuge to 450, 000 wildfowl and waders and is the most important inter-tidal wetland site nationally.  

We are currently crowdfunding to raise money to rebuild the hides at Snettisham lost in the 2013 storm surge. To donate to our #SnettsHide appeal please visit where there are many exclusive rewards on offer.