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Project to save rare species in unique Brecks landscape

PUBLISHED: 14:20 15 August 2018 | UPDATED: 14:20 15 August 2018

The unique landscape of the Brecks whose wildlife will benefit from new project Shifting Sands. Picture: Angela Sharpe

The unique landscape of the Brecks whose wildlife will benefit from new project Shifting Sands. Picture: Angela Sharpe

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Straddling the Norfolk and Suffolk border, The Brecks is one of the most unusual lowland landscapes in the UK and one of its most important areas for wildlife.

The Brecks covers 1,000 sq km and is home to more than 12,800 species. Picture: Mike PageThe Brecks covers 1,000 sq km and is home to more than 12,800 species. Picture: Mike Page

The unique landscape that developed from an ancient landscape of sandy, chalky soils, shallow rivers, open heaths, sheep walks and medieval rabbit warrens covers 1,000 sq km and is home to more than 12,800 species.

Comprising conifer plantations and large fields edged with lines of crooked pines, rare species include birds such as the nightjar and woodlark as well as 65% of the UK’s stone curlews.

Now a new ambitious project that aims to help restore and protect its at-risk wildlife and habitats will be launched this weekend at Brandon Country Park.

The Shifting Sands project aims to help wild rabbit numbers to benefit other Breckland species. Picture: RSPBThe Shifting Sands project aims to help wild rabbit numbers to benefit other Breckland species. Picture: RSPB

Shifting Sands is one of 19 projects around the country under the umbrella of the collaborative Back from the Brink programme which aims to save some of the nation’s rarest wildlife.

It will work with volunteers and partner organisations in Norfolk and Suffolk to restore more than 15 areas of grass heath recreating the open, sparsely vegetated conditions required by many birds, reptiles, plants and insects that live or breed there.

Natural England’s project officer for Shifting Sands, Phoebe Miles, said: “The Brecks is a very special landscape that is home to over a quarter of the UK’s rare and declining species, but it needs our help. Over 75% of its grass heaths have been lost in the past century.”

A stone curlew on Weeting Heath. The Becks is home to 65% of the UK population. Picture: Lawrie WebbA stone curlew on Weeting Heath. The Becks is home to 65% of the UK population. Picture: Lawrie Webb

The project will directly benefit 14 vulnerable and endangered species including woodlark, the wormwood moonshiner beetle, its food plant Breckland wormwood and prostrate perennial knawel - a small plant that exists nowhere else in the world.

Ms Miles said heaths for hundreds of years were home to rabbits that proved great habitat managers, but they are now in sharp decline.

“We aim to boost rabbit populations on these heaths so that rare plants and their associated insects can re-colonise the more open, rabbit-disturbed ground,” she said.

Moonshiner beetle is one of the Brecks species to benefit from the Shifting Sands project. Picture: John WaltersMoonshiner beetle is one of the Brecks species to benefit from the Shifting Sands project. Picture: John Walters

The project will launch on August 18 with the chance to learn about our Brecks wildlife, the project and volunteering opportunities. There will also be an expert talk on the European wild rabbit by the UEA’s Dr Diana Bell and activities including moth trap opening and a guided walk on Brandon Heath.

Over the next two years Back from the Brink aims to bring 20 species back from the brink of extinction and put a further 100 species firmly on the road to recovery nationally.

The Lottery funded Brecks project will see Natural England working in partnership with the Forestry Commission, Plantlife, Breckland Flora Group, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, the University of East Anglia, Butterfly Conservation, Buglife and the RSPB.

Prostrate Perennial Knawel is a rare wildflower species only found on The Brecks. Picture: Alex Prendergast/Natural EnglandProstrate Perennial Knawel is a rare wildflower species only found on The Brecks. Picture: Alex Prendergast/Natural England

• Shifting Sands Wild Day takes place at the Engine House, Brandon Country Park, on August 18, 11am-3pm, entry is free.

• More information about the project at naturebftb.co.uk/the-projects/shifting-sands/

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