The Brecks (otherwise known as the Breckland) is one of the great natural areas of Britain. It covers some 940 km2 (370 sq m) in Norfolk and Suffolk, and has one of the driest climates in the UK. It is a place of strange beauty and hidden stories that go back to the Stone Age, and it has a distinctive Earth heritage.
The Brecks in East Anglia
Ancient heathland once covered a huge area, created by the axes of prehistoric farmers and the nibbling teeth of sheep and rabbits. ‘Brecks’ were temporary fields cultivated for a few years and then allowed to revert to heath once the soils became exhausted. Sands storms were once a regular occurrence, such as that which engulfed the village of Santon Downham in 1668. Through many centuries its heaths and wetlands became home to a distinctive range of plants and animals. The contrasting chalky and sandy soils have contributed to much biodiversity.
Heathland at Wretham.
Sheep's bit (Jasione montana), a plant of light sandy or stony soils. Seen here at Barnhamcross Common, Thetford
Spanish catchfly (Silene otites), a Brecks speciality at home on disturbed calcareous soils. Seen here at Middle Harling Heath.
Over the last hundred years the ancient character of the Brecks has changed. The large-scale pine plantations of Thetford Forest and the use of modern farming technology have transformed much of it into more productive land. The remaining stretches of heath, and the more open parts of the forest, are now vital areas for wildlife conservation. The Brecks is an ideal area for quiet recreation, and the forests now welcome over 1½ million visitors each year.
A pine line at Weatherhill Farm, Icklingham.