Cley next the Sea is a village (population 376) on the River Glaven in Norfolk, England, 4 miles north-west of Holt and east of Blakeney. The main A149 coast road runs through the centre of the village, causing congestion in the summer months due to the tight, narrow streets. It lies within the Norfolk Coast AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and the North Norfolk Heritage Coast.
Despite its name, Cley (pronounced "Cly") has not been "next the sea" since the 17th century, due to land reclamation. There are remnants of the quay, especially the 18th-century windmill. The windmill was owned by the family of singer James Blunt for many decades and operated as a bed and breakfast. The mill was sold in 2006, but continues to operate as a bed and breakfast on a non-profit making basis. The mill was used as a backdrop of the 1949 film Conspirator, with Elizabeth Taylor, and it features in a BBC1 continuity link.
It is hard to imagine Cley as one of the busiest ports in England, where grain, malt, fish, spices, coal, cloth, barley and oats were exported or imported. The many Flemish gables in the town are a reminder of trade with the Low countries.
The failed land reclamation scheme led to the silting up of the port, and Cley had to find another industry. In the late 19th century, it became a holiday resort.
The marshes around Cley are bird reserves in the care of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust.
Cley is one of the best sites for seeing rare birds in Britain because of its location and habitats, notably Cley Marshes and Salthouse Marshes Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserves. It is a Mecca for "twitchers", the British word for hardcore rare bird chasers. It is the home of the Bird Information Service, publishers of Birding World.
The salt and fresh water marshes used to be very well protected. However the cost of replenishing the shingle spit grew too much for the town to sustain. Once the repairing stopped, it became easier for waves to get through; in 1953 a large storm, (see North Sea flood of 1953) hit the North Norfolk coast and the shingle ridge was mostly destroyed. SMP's strategies of Advance the line, Hold the line, Managed retreat and Do nothing, they have chosen to do nothing even for an important area of study (SSSI). Although the town could not afford to keep up the beach replenishment, DEFRA would be expected to do so.