Breaking New Ground

Reconnecting People with The Brecks

Wet but Worth It: Brecks Heath Forum

Last week the BNG team attended a Brecks Heath Forum gathering at Harling Heath; a heathland re-creation project managed by Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT).

Our fabulous host was Andy Palles-Clark, the NWT’s Project Officer for the Brecks Heath Project, who kept our spirits high on a pretty wet and chilly morning. The group included folk from Butterfly Conservation, Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, Natural England, Norfolk and Suffolk Wildlife Trusts and RSPB and a local grazier all involved in heathland restoration in the Brecks landscape. 

The topic of the day was the ground disturbance trials that have been taking place on the Harling Heath site over the last few years, how the trials are developing and what lessons can be learnt for further ground disturbance in the Brecks, including the BNG ‘Ground Disturbance’ project.  There was also much discussion about problem species to restored heathland sites like the rough grass Calamagrostis sp. and the techniques that have been used to bring it under control.

We looked firstly at the small scale disturbance work that can be achieved with mini diggers and even a spade! The first site looked a bit like a dry pond with steps into the main level of the plot. This was only a few meters wide but has provided excellent habitat for bees, wasps, beetles and the rare Basil Thyme plant -below.

Sharon Hearle from Butterfly conservation, also told us about the fascinating ecology of the Basil Thyme Case-bearer moth which associates with the plant and occurs only in the Brecks (click here for factsheet). There was also evidence of rabbit burrowing at the banked edges which were designed to encourage these vital grazers into the more open parts of the heath.

Other small scale disturbance could be seen at the end of the stump rows, formed 15 years ago when the site was clear felled and the stumps piled up into long rows throughout the site. This again was to encourage rabbit burrowing and to provide ideal habitat for solitary bees, wasps and basking sites for butterflies. This demonstrated how easy it can be to produce fantastic results with very little funding and time.

As we were observed by the small herd of sheep we looked at the large scale disturbance area, which was approximately 7 hectares, and was achieved using a huge tractor and plough which buries the layer of top soil and exposes the infertile substrate.  Andy was expressing their surprise at how quickly the exposed soil had been recolonised with species like bramble, thistle and course grasses. This generated much discussion amongst the group about pre-treatment of the plot, comparison with other sites and with turf stripping and how important long term monitoring will be to see how all the approaches develop over time.

Overall this was a very valuable morning, definitely worth braving the weather, and has helped the team connect with key people in heathland management that will influence the project delivered by BNG. It has helped to begin dialogues to ensure that the project’s aim to produce guidance for good practice in ground disturbance uses all the information and wealth of experience that already exists on this subject.


Rebekah O'Driscoll

BNG Project Officer


Ploughing Ground Disturbance
Stepped Trough Feature
Small Scale Disturbance