The Brecks has one of the most distinctive landscapes in East Anglia.
The climate of the Brecks has earned the description ‘semi-continental'. It is colder in winter and hotter in summer than the British average, and experiences greater extremes of temperature, with the possibility of frost in almost any month. The Brecks is the driest part of a dry region, with low rainfall and, generally, very sandy soil. In this landscape of sand and Flint Sandstorms were once common.
Lines of Scots pines can be seen crossing the Brecks and have become a distinctive feature of the landscape. They were once windbreak hedges planted to stop the precious topsoil blowing away and to create large enclosures. The twisted pines are picked out as a key feature of the Brecks area logo/ graphic identity, developed to help raise the profile of the area and create a stronger local identity.
The Scot's Pines
Whilst Scots pine lines are recorded as early as 1668 most planting did not place until after the mid-18th century. In many places they were managed as hedges locally known as ‘deal rows.' Most have now grown out to become the lines of twisted pines so characteristic of the area but one example managed as a hedge can still be seen at Elveden.
Scots pine belts continue to play a part in the wind shelter of crops, livestock and for shooting as well as being fine landscape features. Without proper management the existing belts will eventually deteriorate and disappear. Support and advice to landowners on pine line management and restoration is available from various sources.
Thetford forest is the largest lowland pine forest in Britain (22,000ha), covering nearly 20% of the Brecks. Planting was started in the 1920's as a strategic timber reserve. The greatest wildlife value of the forest lies in the open spaces it protects or creates. It is now home for endangered wildlife such as woodlark and nightjar.
In the early years, the species predominantly planted was Scots pine. Now the favoured species is Corsican pine which grows more quickly and is more resistant to disease. But Scots pine is still planted, partly for conservation reasons, since some of the forest wildlife prefers it.
The Brecks area is famous for its dry heaths. They are the nearest thing in Britain to continental heaths and steppes. Distinctive heathland plants and animals have developed here - many found nowhere else in Britain.
84% of Brecks heaths have been lost since1900. This loss has now stopped but proper management of the remaining areas is vital to safeguard their wildlife.
The Heritage Lottery Fund and Natural England have supported the Tomorrow's Heathland Heritage project which is helping to conserve and recreate heathland across the country, including The Brecks. Seven new heathlands were re-created from Forest Enterprise land as part of the Heritage Lottery funded Brecks Heathland Project (2001-2006). Their future management will include sustainable grazing to let the heaths naturally re-generate.
The Land of Sand and Flint
Sand- On Lakenheath Warren in the 1660's, sand dunes spread over a thousand acres and, in the next four years, were blown as far as Santon Downham, partly burying the village and blocking part of the Little Ouse River. The last mobile system of sand dunes can be seen at Wangford Warren nature reserve.
Flint-has been dug for centuries at sites such as Grimes Graves and has played a major part in the history and landscape of the area. This history is reflected in the region's built heritage with good examples of flint construction. Flint and brick are the main local building materials, with pantile and slate roofs. Clunch(a form of chalk) is used on the western edge of the Brecks, while yellow-grey brick is found near Thetford and Culford.
Arable farmland covers about 60% of the Brecks. Tracks, waysides, disturbed ground and unsprayed arable field margins are rich habitats for wildlife.
The History of farming stretches back around 5000 years. Neolithic people were the first farmers in the Brecks- by clearing wooded areas they created open pasture and arable land. Over the centuries the people of the Brecks became adept at making a living room from the poor soils, with medieval sheep farming and rabbit warrening, together with the large shooting estates of the 19th and early 20th century all playing their part.
Modern agricultural technology has transformed the profitability of farming in the Brecks. Heavy investment in irrigation equipment enables farmers to grow sugar beet, potatoes and carrots where once Viper's Bugloss, Wheatears and Adders flourished.
In the late 1980's, polices to encourage less environmentally damaging ways of farming were introduced under the Environmentally Sensative (ESA)schemes. The Breckland ESA started in 1988, paying farmers to manage their land for the benefit of wildlife and landscape conservation. The new scheme, Environmental Stewardship (ES) was launched in 2005 to replace exsisting agri-environment schemes including ESA.