NWT Thompson Common in the Breckland Living Landscape. Photo by Richard Osbourne 1/3
NWT Weeting Heath in the Breckland Living Landscape. Photo by Richard Osbourne 2/3
NWT East Wretham Heath in the Breckland Living Landscape. Photo by Richard Osbourne 3/3


This web page will help you to learn about one of Norfolk’s finest areas for nature – the Brecks Living Landscape – so you can get out under its big skies and wild woods and experience the abundance of spectacular scenery, history, and wildlife it has to offer.
The Brecks Living Landscape is a unique area of around 1,000 sq km (385 sq miles) in southwest Norfolk and northwest Suffolk. The area’s distinctive warm microclimate, acidic soils and long history of land-use revolving around sheep-grazing and rabbit-warrening has led to the creation of some of the country’s most important grass heathland areas.

These heaths support a huge range of wildlife, including the rare stone curlew, as well as many plants and insects found nowhere else in the country. However, less than 8,000 hectares of heathland remain in the region, as a result of increased agriculture and forestry.
Much of this forestry consists of conifer plantations, which although low in biodiversity, are important for scarce breeding birds including the nightjar, woodlark, goshawk and common crossbill. The large areas of arable land are important for flora and fauna, such as declining farmland birds including yellowhammer and turtle dove.
Additionally, the Brecks also contains a number of important wetlands of high conservation value: its meres have naturally fluctuating water levels (depending on groundwater levels), whereas the strange ‘pingos’ (small, water-filled depressions) were formed at the end of the Ice Age. There are also areas of fen and grazing marsh.

Overall, the Brecks are a fantastically rich area for wildlife. The 2011 Breckland Biodiversity Audit led by the University of East Anglia (covering the whole of the Brecks) showed that more than 28% of all the UK's rare species occurred in an area of less than 1% of the UK.
Despite covering such a large area, the Brecks Living Landscape is well set up for visitors to explore. As well as numerous free Forestry Commission car parks and paths leading through the area’s woodlands, there are also three easily accessible Norfolk Wildlife Trust nature reserves (as well as other areas managed by the Trust where access is more limited due to sensitive wildlife).

The oldest nature reserve in the Brecks, NWT East Wretham Heath was purchased by the Trust at the start of WWII. Much of the site was ploughed up and farmed during the war, but subsequent careful management and controlled conservation grazing, in particular by the site's numerous rabbits, has restored the open heath habitat and today a number of speciality Breckland plant and invertebrate species occur. The reserve lies approximately 5km (3 miles) north of Thetford, and contains numerous trails and viewing hides over various meres.

NWT Thompson Common is on the edge of the Brecks, just outside the small town of Watton. Thompson is famous for its pingos, a series of around 400 post-glacial depressions. These shallow, fluctuating pools harbour a variety of interesting flora and fauna: more than 400 species of plant have been recorded, as well as 600 species of beetle, 25 butterflies and 19 dragonflies (including the scarce emerald damselfly, found at only a handful of locations in the country). The site is also a good place to see otters on Thompson Water – though, remarkably, this magnificent mammal is also frequently seen along the river in Thetford town centre.

Approximately 2.5 km (1.25 miles) west of Weeting village, NWT Weeting Heath is the best place in the country to see the rare stone curlew. The strange species of wading bird requires open, stony ground with short vegetation, making the close-cropped turf of Weeting an ideal site. This special Breckland habitat has to be specially managed to keep it so low – as well as sheep, NWT employs eager rabbit volunteers, a species that you will definitely see at Weeting!
The wildlife of the Brecks is under threat. Many species found here that were once common are now in decline, and increasing development pressures are crowding in on its precious habitats. Despite this, there is much you can do to help ensure this beautiful part of Norfolk and its wildlife have a thriving future.

If you live in the Brecks Living Landscape area then you can help by making your garden more wildlife-friendly by: feeding the birds in your garden, putting up nest boxes and bat boxes, creating a wildlife pond or a compost heap.

There are many other actions you can take such as encouraging local businesses or schools to support an area for wildlife, joining together with other people within the community to create wildlife-friendly areas, volunteering for NWT or other conservation projects, speaking to local councillors and MPs about the importance of local green spaces and wildlife, and buying from local farmers engaged in good environmental practices.

Or simply get out into the Brecks by visiting local nature reserves or the wider countryside and learning about its wildlife and habitats. You could even undertake a simple wildlife survey (NWT occasionally runs surveys for certain species, and more regular ones are carried out by the BTO and RSPB) to help scientists and researchers learn more about wildlife numbers and distribution.

NWT is working with a range of partners in the Brecks Living Landscape  to connect communities with the landscape through the conservation and restoration of the natural and built heritage features; features that make the Brecks landscape so distinctive. It's called Breaking New Ground and has many ways for you to Take Action and get involved.

News stories: a living landscape

2018-08-13 Floating digger provides next Floating digger provides next stage of fen restoration
Monday 13 August, 2018
A 14-ton excavator has been ‘floating’ on a Norfolk fen this month to create a network of ponds, which wi...
2018-07-25 Songs, Scales and studies at C Songs, Scales and studies at Cley this summer
Wednesday 25 July, 2018
Don’t miss Cley Calling Summer Spirit next week - Thursday 2nd till Sunday 5th August – with unusual ways...
2018-06-27 Summer Spirit as Cley calls to Summer Spirit as Cley calls to art and nature lovers
Wednesday 27 June, 2018
Just five weeks until our long summer weekend of wildlife and creativity at Cley! Thursday 2nd till Sunday 5th August...
2018-05-22 Wildlife in Common Wildlife in Common
Tuesday 22 May, 2018
A two year project celebrating Norfolk’s commons and their wildlife and heritage has begun,  run by Norfol...
2017-12-08 Be ‘eagle’ eyed this winter Be ‘eagle’ eyed this winter
Friday 08 December, 2017
Winter is often a very good time of year to spot birds of prey. As the trees have lost their leaves the silhouettes o...
2017-12-05 Cley Calling celebrates Norfol Cley Calling celebrates Norfolk’s starry skies this weekend
Tuesday 05 December, 2017
Do you know your mallard from your gadwall? Do you fancy a spot of frosty storytelling with a glass of mulled wine? Y...
2017-10-02 New report links volunteering New report links volunteering in nature with better mental health
Monday 02 October, 2017
A new report which examines the effects of volunteering in nature on people’s mental health is published by The...
2017-09-20 Cley Calling – Autumn Colours Cley Calling – Autumn Colours
Wednesday 20 September, 2017
This autumn, you can explore North Norfolk’s colourful coastal landscape and culture as part of NWT’s ...
2017-09-19 Celebrating two decades of rub Celebrating two decades of rubbish help for biodiversity
Tuesday 19 September, 2017
It feels counterintuitive - the waste we produce helping to restore habitats and conserve some of Norfolk’s mos...
2017-09-11 Breeding redshank return to Ro Breeding redshank return to Roydon Common after 40 years
Monday 11 September, 2017
A new noise has joined the cacophony of bubbling curlew, drumming snipe and the ‘tooo-wips’ of lapwing th...
2017-06-27 Norfolk's magical meadows Norfolk's magical meadows
Tuesday 27 June, 2017
Norfolk Wildlife Trust is leading a free meadow tour of Mulbarton Common this Saturday 1 July 2017 as part of The ...
2017-06-07 From Dartmoor to Breckland From Dartmoor to Breckland
Wednesday 07 June, 2017
New ponies settle in to manage Cranwich Camp, Norfolk.  Sixteen Dartmoor Ponies are settling in to their new...
2017-05-03 Cley Calling - Spring Song Cley Calling - Spring Song
Wednesday 03 May, 2017
Musicians and artists celebrate spring at the North Norfolk Coast From Thursday 4 May to Sunday 7 May, Norfolk Wi...
2017-04-18 £1 million target reached to s £1 million target reached to secure future of international wetland Hickling Broad
Tuesday 18 April, 2017
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has announced today that the £1 million target had been reached through donations to the...
2017-03-15 'Microsculpture' 'Microsculpture'
Wednesday 15 March, 2017
'Microsculpture' is a unique exhibition resulting from a ground breaking insects project by Levon Biss, Briti...
2017-03-07 Celebrating 'The Year of Norfo Celebrating 'The Year of Norfolk’s Nature' - photography competition
Tuesday 07 March, 2017
Norfolk Wildlife Trust today [Wednesday 8 March 2017] announced the winner of its photographic competition celebratin...
2017-02-16 Do some 'fun raising' and Do some 'fun raising' and "Help Hickling" Broad
Thursday 16 February, 2017
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has an ambitious target of raising £1 million by 31 March 2017 to help it purchase 655 a...
2017-02-02 World Wetlands Day celebrates World Wetlands Day celebrates major public commitment to securing Norfolk’s finest wetland
Thursday 02 February, 2017
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has announced today on World Wetlands Day that over £500,000 has been donated so far to ...
2017-01-14 Sea Flooding at NWT Cley Marsh Sea Flooding at NWT Cley Marshes Nature Reserve
Saturday 14 January, 2017
Update: 18 January 2017 Following the flooding at the weekend, reserve staff are now carrying out a clean-up and ...
2016-12-06 A strong step towards securing A strong step towards securing Hickling Broad
Tuesday 06 December, 2016
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has announced that over £128,000 has been donated so far as a result of it launching the...
2016-11-21 It's time to chat about the ba It's time to chat about the bat
Monday 21 November, 2016
Join bat expert John Goldsmith for an evening this Thursday [24 November] discovering the secret lives of these noctu...
2016-11-02 Hickling Broad - urgent appeal Hickling Broad - urgent appeal to secure future of historic Norfolk wildlife haven
Wednesday 02 November, 2016
 Norfolk Wildlife Trust today announced it is launching a £1 million appeal to secure the future of one of...
2016-07-11  A wild morning in Reffley – t A wild morning in Reffley – this Saturday!
Monday 11 July, 2016
Join Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Reffley Community Association and the Gaywood Valley Conservation Group for a fun packed...
2016-05-13 Competition to name King’s Lyn Competition to name King’s Lynn Wildlife Area
Friday 13 May, 2016
Ideas are being sought from members of the public for a name to give to a publicly accessible wildlife area which is ...

Habitats, Breckland

Farmland Farmland
Meres Meres
Breck Heath Breck Heath