The Brecks is a little known pocket of East Anglia; a unique and distinctive landscape just waiting to be explored. For many people, however, it remains an area to be viewed from their car window as they pass through on their way to the coast. Stretching across the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, it spans an area of 393sq.miles/1019 sq.kilometers.
"Of all the 'wild' parts of Norfolk, it is the most enigmatic and the hardest to get to grips with"
The Brecks story begins with ice; a series of glaciations which planed the surface of the land down. By the end of the last ice age the area was a sandy windswept tundra, with thin, poor soils. As the climate warmed, the area gradually filled out with woodland. During the Bronze Age, man began to clear areas for grazing and cultivation, but the poor soils weren't good for much, infact they were only suited to sheep and rabbit grazing.
"For hundreds and hundreds of years The Brecks was nothing but sand and bunnies".
Nick Acheson, NWT.
Prehistoric farming and the nibbling teeth of animals turned huge areas of The Brecks into heathland. This cool, dry, open landscape attracted the interest of a number of species from places such as the Mediterranean and Russia Steppes. This led to the development of a unique flora and fauna, with species not found anywhere else in the UK.
It must have been a hard place to live and work in. In addition to poor soils there was the regular reoccurrence of standstorms which could engulf a village, as experienced by Santon Downham in 1668. Dealing with shifting sands is still a part of living memory.
Humans, however, prevailed and The Brecks has some notable claims to fame. Brandon became the centre of the UK's flint mining industry; The Brecks became home to the largest concentration of rabbit warrens; and Queen Boudicca is believed to have led the rebellion against the Romans from the Iceni homeland (now Thetford).
The name 'Brecks' was given to the area in 1926 following the publication of W.G. Clarke's book In Breckland Wilds. 'Brecks' were temporary fields cultivated for a few years and then allowed to revert to heath.
"Such a desolate area was, of course, considered a 'wilderness', ripe for improvement."
The early 20th century saw the creation of large-scale pine plantations and the use of modern farming technology. Thetford Forest and Kings Forest, collectively are the largest lowland forest in the UK. These improvements have transformed much of the area into more productive land, but at a price.
Change has led to a loss of the habitats which support the important and rare wildlife and give the area it's distinctive characteristics. The remaining stretches, and the more open parts of the forest, are now vital areas for wildlife conservation. The Brecks is an ideal place for quiet recreation, and the forests now welcome over 1.5 million visitors each year.
For more information about The Brecks, its history, heritage and wildlife visit www.brecks.org
Click here for the Brecks National Character Area Profile - NCA 85. For other NCA profiles please click here. These profiles explain how you can access environmental evidence and information about specific NCAs.