Plants are essential to everyone's lives. Welcome to Plantlife.
Breckland: the problem
Dry heaths and grassland
Due to the geology, Breck heaths and grasslands have an underlying mosaic of calcareous and acidic soils. These correspond with a mosaic of plant species suited to the differing areas: hence it is possible to find acid loving plants in the same area as chalk lovers. Disturbance and short grazing, traditionally provided by sheep and rabbits, prevents invasion by more robust species.
Loss of traditional Breckland heath in the last century has been rapid. There is now only about 7,000 hectares of dry heath (27 square miles) compared to 29,000 (112 square miles) in 1900. This is partly due to large areas of this poor quality land being converted to conifer plantations e.g. Thetford Forest, now the largest area of lowland forest in Britain covering 20,000 hectares (77 square miles). Other areas of heath were converted to arable land, grazing of sheep has declined and after World War II the warrens were abandoned with rabbits being almost wiped out by myxemotosis in 1954. Rabbit populations have never fully recovered, and, combined with the loss of sheep grazing and management, such as the collecting of bracken and heather for animal bedding, large areas of remaining heath have become more densely vegetated, crowding out the plants that preferred the disturbed, tightly grazed land. Traditional
Breck heaths exist now only as fragments scattered across Breckland. Under these conditions it is hard for some plant species with specific requirements to flourish.
Mobile sand dunes
The early forest covering Breckland was cleared by settlers exposing light sandy soils to the wind. This created a large area of inland sand dunes. Until recently most of these were moving dune systems. Where the sand dunes do still exist, for example at Wangford Warren, Suffolk, they have been colonised by sand sedge Carex aranaria.
The mobility of the sand dunes and the disturbance caused to the poor soil are responsible for the characteristic flora of the Brecks. Much of this is now endangered as the dunes have ceased to move.