Could Brecks get new protected status?
- Credit: Angela Sharpe/Richard Townshend Photography
It’s one of Britain’s most unusual landscapes, famed for its forest, its flint and its dry, sandy heathlands.
Now, a local MP wants the Brecks to be recognised as a ‘national landscape’ on a par with the North Norfolk Coast and Broads National Park.
George Freeman, the MP for Mid Norfolk, has written to ministers, to make the case for the area to be given the special status by the government.
'National landscapes' are a proposed new category of protected area, which may replace 'areas of outstanding natural beauty'.
They are intended to ensure the conservation of some of the county's most cherished rural sites and promote them as tourist destinations.
Those backing the Brecks' bid for the new status hope it will help promote an area that is often overlooked in favour of more established visitor areas.
In his letter, Mr Freeman said he wished to give his “wholehearted support” to efforts already under way by Norfolk and Suffolk’s county councils to gain the designation.
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He praised the area’s “abundance of untapped opportunities” - and pointed out that as well as being popular with tourists, it is home to several businesses “leading the way in some of the most exciting and innovative fields and sectors of tomorrow”.
The Brecks, which surround Thetford and Brandon and include Thetford Forest, is in turn located on the ‘Cambridge-Norwich Tech Corridor’ of scientific research facilities and businesses.
Mr Freeman added that the status would allow the area to be better geared towards visitors looking to enjoy a part of the county “away from the more traditional honeypot tourist destinations such as the coasts and the Broads”.
While most of the Norfolk Coast has been recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and the Broads as a de facto National Park, the Brecks does not enjoy the same level of recognition.
Pete Waters, executive director of Visit East of England, agreed that the designation would be a boon for the region and “could help unlock the Brecks’ enormous potential”.
“Establishing the Brecks as a national landscape would undoubtedly bring benefits to the visitor economy and boost employment in tourism and hospitality,” he said.
“This is a lesser-known destination but it has huge potential for year-round sustainable tourism not just because of its natural capital, such as the distinctive heathlands, pingos, deal rows and the largest lowland pine forest in the country, but also built capital that includes Neolithic flint mines, and much more."
What are the Brecks?
The Brecks is a unique landscape surrounding Thetford and Brandon, and stretching towards Mildenhall in the south and Watton and Swaffham in the north.
It is among the warmest and driest parts of the UK, and has a chalk geology lying close to the surface, covered by thin deposits of sand and flint.
The landscape developed out of a repeated freeze and thaw caused by the tundra-like climate of the last ice age.
The area was described by Charles Dickens in his novel David Copperfield as “barren”, and by an observer in the 1760s as “sand, and scattered gravel, without the least vegetation; a mere African desert”.
It has a changed a great deal in the last century, with Thetford Forest being created around a 100 years ago, helping to improve the area’s soil quality.
What is a ‘national landscape’?
National landscapes are a proposed new type of protected area in Britain, which came out of a review conducted by the journalist and speechwriter Julian Glover.
The review suggested that all Areas of Outstanding Beauty (AONBs) and National Parks be brought together “as part of one family of national landscapes”.
In response to the report, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), said it would trial the renaming of AONBs as 'national landscapes'.
In his letter to ministers, Mr Freeman notes that designation would “pave the way” for an “integrated management plan” for the area.
The plan would outline a strategy for how to ensure the Brecks’ natural features are preserved and how best to respond to the increasing effects of climate change.
Top five wonders of the Brecks
A very rare type of pond, created at the end of the last ice age. The Brecks contain the largest concentration of them anywhere in the UK.
Single rows of Scots pine trees originally planted as hedges which, untended, have grown out and are now twisted and contorted. They are the most distinctive feature of the Brecks landscape and look similar to acacia trees on the African savannah.
The largest lowland pine forest in Britain, 47,000 acres large and created in the early 20th century. The forest has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and has its own unique microclimate, meaning it is one of the driest parts of the country.
The only Neolithic flint mine in Britain that is open to the public. The oldest industrial site in Europe, it was worked for around 1,000 years from 3,000BC to 1,900BC. Visitors can climb 30 feet down through the chalk surface to see the flint that was used for making axes and starting fires.
The Peddars Way
A quarter of this distinctive route lies within the Brecks, starting at Knettishall Heath and passing northwards to Holme-next-the-Sea, near Hunstanton.