Breaking New Ground

Reconnecting People with The Brecks

Ground Disturbance

The man-made landscape of the Brecks has led to the need for a unique form of land management to be implemented which allows specialist species to flourish. The intensive grazing and burrowing by rabbits for centuries has meant that many plant species need bare ground to colonise and thrive. The practice of warrening has disappeared and much of the heath has been converted to agricultural land, with remaining heath not sustaining a large enough population of rabbits to create enough bare ground.

This project involved many partners to co-ordinate a joined-up experiment to evaluate and test which methods are the most successful in different areas at providing space for these species. Baseline plant, insect and bird surveys were undertaken to see the shift in biodiversity post bare ground creation which was achieved by hand and heavy machinery alike. Stone Curlews were also GPS tagged in a pioneering aspect to the project to see if they selected areas of newly disturbed ground for nesting and feeding on – and they did. Ongoing monitoring will be required for several years to look at successional processes but the early signs indicate that the artificial creation of substantial areas of bare ground is hugely beneficial for biodiversity in the Brecks.

One key aspect of the project was the new relationship created between land managers and historic environment teams. Removal and disturbance of soil has significant potential to negatively impact archaeological features and remains, and so a digital ‘opportunities map’ was created with a traffic light system to inform land managers of areas where disturbance was and wasn’t acceptable. Find the Historic OPportunities map here Volunteers were also trained to record earthworks on heaths to contribute to ongoing mapping work as part of the project, many of whom still carry on recording in their own time.

Watch this fantastic video showing the scrapes on Brandon Heath from above (thanks to Ember Films!)


  • Pioneering new conservation techniques adopted across the Brecks.
  • Trained volunteers continue to record archaeological earthworks.
  • Strong new relationships between conservation and historic environment teams.
  • Robust mapping system available on-line, and updated regularly.
  • New ground disturbance projects are already being developed for existing and new sites.

The management work undertaken by this project has undoubtedly improved the prospects for important biodiversity in the Brecks, without damaging the historic environment... stone-curlew GPS tagging work undertaken by this project has confirmed that the birds use areas of disturbance for foraging as well as breeding, something that we didn’t know prior to the project.

Robert Hawkes – Project Lead (RSPB & UEA)


End of Stump Row Disturbance
Ploughing Ground Disturbance
Small Scale Disturbance
Stepped Trough Feature

Ground Disturbance Guidance