Breaking New Ground

Reconnecting People with The Brecks

Earthworks of the Neolithic flint mines at Grimes Graves © Norfolk County Council. Photographer D.A. Edwards

Earthworks of the Neolithic flint mines at Grimes Graves © Norfolk County Council. Photographer D.A. Edwards

‘Brecks From Above’ project seeks to safeguard heritage assets from a higher perspective

The Brecks has great archaeological potential, with some of the earliest known evidence of human habitation in the UK, Neolithic ('New Stone Age') flint mines at Grimes Graves, and sites like West Stow Anglo Saxon Village. However, there are many sites that have yet to be discovered, or properly recorded. Due to landscape changes over time including glacial deposition, wind-blown sand dunes, forestry plantations and modern agriculture, many sites of archaeological significance have not yet been identified, or adequately recorded.

These may be at threat from activities that cause ground disturbance, such as ploughing, development, forestry work or heathland restoration. Enhancing baseline knowledge of heritage assets in the Brecks is therefore a big priority for Norfolk County Council’s Historic Environment Service and its partners. The ‘Brecks From Above’ project aims to promote greater understanding and engagement with the prehistoric and historic Breckland landscape, specifically through the use of aerial photographs and other airborne remote-sensed data.

The team are busy interpreting the results of BNG’s LiDAR project, which used special laser scanning technology to remove the trees from the landscape artificially to ‘see’ what was preserved beneath them. This is combined with an interpretative survey of thousands of conventional aerial photographs, most taken between the 1940s and the present day. A digitisation strand will provide access to over 1000 historic aerial photographs of the BNG (heart of the Brecks) area. The team is also implementing an outreach and training programme, focused on the results of the project and the important role played by aerial photography in the Brecks. Participants at the project's day school and shorter 'taster' sessions will be able to gain hands-on experience of using aerial photographs to learn about the heritage of the Brecks.

Nick Dickson, BNG Project Manager added “With such important historical sites in the Brecks like Grimes Graves, West Stow and the scattering of warren lodges, who knows what we might find when delving deeper into the aerial photographic record. The results of this project will add to the wealth of exciting new information in the Brecks, building on the exciting data coming out of the LiDAR project”.

David Robertson, Historic Environment Officer at Norfolk County Council said “part of Norfolk Historic Environment Service’s role is to help land managers look after archaeological sites. To do this we need to understand which sites survive and where they are. This project will use LiDAR and air photographs to provide this sort of information on known sites and will reveal many previously unrecorded features. Working with partners across the Brecks, including the Forestry Commission and farmers, the results of the project will allow us to manage heritage assets more effectively and ensure they survive for future generations to enjoy”.

The workshop on 17th September at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse is fully booked; details of the shorter 'taster' events later in the year will be made available shortly on our Events page. The team will also be giving a number of lectures around Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.