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Bringing back the Brecks' bounty




Phoebe Miles, Shifting Sands project manager, left and Sharon Hearle, Butterfly Conservation east of England, with Alexsis and Lecena Puzey and Merrily and Jemima Godkin at the launch of Shifting Sands
Phoebe Miles, Shifting Sands project manager, left and Sharon Hearle, Butterfly Conservation east of England, with Alexsis and Lecena Puzey and Merrily and Jemima Godkin at the launch of Shifting Sands

A Lottery-funded project has been launched restore and protect at-risk wildlife and habitats in the Brecks.

Shifting Sands is one of 19 projects in the multi-agency Back from the Brink programme which aims to save some of the nation’s rarest wildlife.

Launched at Brandon Country Park on Saturday, it concentrates on returning the grass heath habitat unique to the sandy Brecks to how they were before human activity changed them.

Forester moth picture by John Money, Butterfly Conservation (3683215)
Forester moth picture by John Money, Butterfly Conservation (3683215)

Natural England's Shifting Sands project officer Phoebe Miles explained: "The Brecks used to look like a dustbowl. The pine lines were planted to stop the sandstorms burying churches and houses and the dunes were fixed by planting grasses."

The Brecks' natural plantlife had evolved to cope with this disturbed habitat with some, such as suffocated clover, even coping with being buried by shifting sand.

Phoebe said: "The seeds of these plants have thousands of years' shelf life. Sometimes highways disturb verges and we get plants suddenly reappearing that haven't been seen since the 1700s.

"If it doesn't have the natural disturbance, perhaps by rabbits or livestock, we have to get in there and do it mechanically to release the historic seedbank."

Prostrate perennial knawel is unique to the Brecks. Picture Phoebe Miles (3683217)
Prostrate perennial knawel is unique to the Brecks. Picture Phoebe Miles (3683217)

This means some of the work on the 15 sites spread from the northern edge of Thetford Forest to the Icklingham plains will appear drastic and destructive.

On existing heath they may plough, rotivate or remove the turf layer to expose the dormant seedbank.

In King's Forest they will fell some of the non-native Corsican pines, planted in the 1920s, to create an open heath corridor linking surviving islands of fragmented heath.

The Brecks' rarities include the prostrate perennial knawel, a small plant that exists nowhere else on Earth, and the wormwood moonshiner beetle which depends on the Brecks wormwood plant for food.

Wormwood moonshiner beetle (Amara fusca) which depends on the Brecks wormwood plant for its food. Picture by John Walters (3683219)
Wormwood moonshiner beetle (Amara fusca) which depends on the Brecks wormwood plant for its food. Picture by John Walters (3683219)

Natural England is working with the Forestry Commission, Plantlife, Breckland Flora Group, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, the University of East Anglia, Butterfly Conservation, Buglife and the RSPB.

Six of the project sites are open to the public: Weeting Heath, Santon Track, East Wretham Heath, Cavenham Heath, Deadman’s Grave and King’s Forest. For details of the project and volunteering visit naturebftb.co.uk



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