Stone curlew by Helen Kramer
NWT Weeting Heath by Mike Page
Rabbit by Elizabeth Dack
Nightjar by Andy Palles-Clark
As with most landscapes in Norfolk, the Breck heaths are the product of complex interactions between geology, human history and wildlife. The underlying chalk of the Breck heaths was laid down in Late Cretaceous seas tens of millions of years ago. On top of the chalk lies sand, pushed there by an Ice Age ice-sheet. When, from the Bronze Age onwards, forest was felled from these poor well-drained soils, in the driest area of the UK, what developed was a huge sandy grassland which could be used for little except raising rabbits and mining flint. Over centuries the great Breck grassland, with its giant sand dunes and poor, flinty agricultural fields, became home to many dry-country plant and animal species not found elsewhere in the country.
As a result of massive-scale conifer-planting in the wake of the First World War, the introduction of chemical fertilisers which made poor Breck soils viable for modern agriculture, and the introduction of myxomatosis to kill rabbits, over the past century the once vast Breck grassland has been reduced to a few tiny fragments, principally nature reserves and military sites.
These are nonetheless extremely important for many Breck grassland species such as stone curlew, maiden pink, Breckland thyme, spiked speedwell and Spanish catchfly. Norfolk Wildlife Trust maintains its Breck grassland nature reserves by grazing livestock, including traditional breeds of pony and sheep, and encouraging rabbits, to prevent succession to woodland. On some reserves, small areas are farmed in traditional ways, to preserve nationally rare arable weeds which can only survive where these light soils are tilled. In the wider landscape NWT is engaged in the restoration to Breck heath of sites which had been converted into conifer plantations.