Site details

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              Other Site (estuaries, pelagic, deep-sea)

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The upper Esk estuary. Photo: J-P D (IECS)

Synoptic description of site:

Complex estuary with 8 km of coast, shallow through two weirs; moderately exposed to sheltered, fully marine to variable: mouth protected by breakwaters; harbour.

Extensive description of site:

The river Esk drains the Yorkshire Moors National Park. Its estuary is a narrow complex estuary 12 km long. It consists mainly of sediments sheltered behind the piers at the estuary mouth. An extensive bedrock and boulder shore and a weir make up the majority of hard substrata. Mudflats and silted channels are found in the upper parts of the estuary. Externally to the estuary, mobile sands and exposed rocks are typical of the Yorkshire coast.

Habitats present:
Seagrass beds 

Description of fauna and flora:

The fauna and flora comprise of typical estuarine communities, including low salinity tolerant seaweeds (Fucoids), together with muds characterised by polychaetes and Corophium volutator. The biotopes in the infralittoral are submitted to moderate wave exposure, relatively high turbidity and moderate scour. On the exposed coast, just off the estuary, Whitby rock holds a higher diversity with a wave-exposed kelp forest.

Human impact:

The Esk is well-known as a salmon and sea-trout river and coastal fisheries are still lively at Whitby Harbour. In Summer Whitby is a busy small sea-side resort. Water quality in the estuary is very good (Grade A). There is very little litter, debris, oil or chemical pollution, although nutrient enrichment from agriculture on the watershed might occur during periods of low water. Tourism is seasonal and has little impact on the estuary itself.


All facilities for marine biodiversity research are available on the University of Hull Scarborough Campus which also has basic facilities on site at Whitby.

Available database and website:

The University of Hull and other British Universities together with the London Natural history Museum have been collecting data for decades and made it accessible to English Nature which manages the area. Information has been compiled in the Marine Nature Conservation Review and in the JNCC Coastal Directories (EC BioMar-Life programmes).

Commitment and ongoing research:

The University of Hull (Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies) and its branch at Scarborough undertake biodiversity-related research in the area.