The machinery is being used to scrape away the surface nutrients and expose the bare mineral soil below 1/3
More than 10 hectares of new disturbed ground will be created 2/3
It creates ideal habitat for rare Breckland plants, solitary bees and rare moths. Photo by Ian Davis 3/3

Towering tractors to help tiny wildlife

Thursday 04 February, 2016

A huge transformation has begun using heavy machinery at two sites in the Brecks managed by Norfolk Wildlife Trust. The machinery is being used to scrape away the surface nutrients and expose the bare mineral soil below, creating ideal habitat for rare Breckland plants, solitary bees and rare moths. Collectively over the project’s lifetime, more than 10 hectares of new disturbed ground will be created in the heart of the Brecks.

The Brecks is an area of unique climate and soils. A history of grazing and cultivation created an open landscape attracting rare flora and fauna. There has, however, been a severe decline in the creation of this bare, or broken (hence the term ‘Breck’), ground which has led to a decrease in the plants and animals that depend on it.

As part of the Breaking New Ground Landscape Partnership Scheme, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Ground Disturbance project explores a range of different disturbance treatments in order to increase populations of plants, invertebrates and birds through varied habitat management and mosaic creation. Traditionally the creation of bare ground was achieved through grazing and by the huge populations of rabbits the landscape once supported, but since the planting of the forests and the dawn of industrial agriculture, these natural processes in The Brecks no longer occur on the scale that they used to.

To combat the loss of these natural processes, the restoration project is underway. At Brandon Heath, the heather is prevented from rejuvenating naturally because many areas are dominated by mosses and grasses which would naturally have been kept down by grazing animals. A massive two hectares of bare ground will be created, made up of 120 small scrapes of roughly five metres in diameter each. These will allow space for the heather to grow and create a site with different ages of heather. This is really important, as without this sort of intervention the heather will degenerate and ultimately be lost to grasses and scrub.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Brecks Heathland Project Officer, Andy Palles-Clark said: “Brandon Heath is particularly important for solitary bees and wasps which utilise it both as a nectar source and also require bare ground for burrowing into for breeding. Increasing the invertebrate population will also provide feeding and breeding habitats for birds including nightjars, stonechats and woodlarks.”

In the coming months, work will also take place at Cranwich Heath; 10 larger scrapes will be created, each approximately 30 metres in diameter. These will promote the spread of rare Breckland plants, and provide niche habitats for rare moths and butterflies. Similar disturbance work will also be undertaken on various other heaths and on road side nature reserves in both the Norfolk and Suffolk areas of The Brecks.

A lot of preparation work is required before work like this can go ahead, not least by Norfolk County Council Historic Environment Service and Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service, who have been working alongside the conservation organisations to ensure the ground disturbance works do not damage archaeological remains. Initially existing records were studied, followed by field surveys of all the sites. Many archaeological features were discovered during the surveys, including a possible prehistoric burial mound, an Anglo-Saxon boundary bank, medieval and post medieval warren boundaries and locations of old quarries dug for sand, gravel and chalk. The ground disturbance works are being organised around all known archaeological features and where necessary are being carried out under the supervision of archaeologists.

This project is part of the Breaking New Ground Landscape Partnership Scheme supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and is being delivered through the partnership of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Forestry Commission, Suffolk County Council, Norfolk County Council and University of East Anglia, and with the support of Natural England.
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