Brecks nature designation bid fails

A bid to secure a national nature designation for Breckland has failed, prompting frustrated calls for the under-appreciated landscape to be given wider recognition.

A partnership of landowners, local authorities and conservationists had applied for the area to become one of the country's first Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs).

It was hoped the profile of the distinct and diverse region of heathland could be raised by winning a share of a �7.5m grant fund to create up to 12 NIAs in England.

But those hopes were dashed by the news that the application, one of 76 submitted across the country, had failed at the first stage of the selection process.

The frustration was amplified by the national publicity gained by the Norfolk Broads last week, which was hailed in a new report as a wildlife hotspot holding a quarter of the country's rarest species.

Those behind the Brecks NIA bid said their own biodiversity study, commissioned in 2009, had revealed an equally special and unique habitat, with a comparable number of nationally-important protected species.

Brecks Partnership manager Neil Featherstone said both areas should be equally cherished for their unique character – but the disparity in funding and status should be addressed.

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'Everybody recognises the Broads and its biodiversity, and I certainly don't want to rain on their parade,' he said. 'It is a very special part of the county with some very special wildlife.

'But this is an opportunity to contrast and compare the resources going into places like the Broads and the Brecks.

'They have equally high levels of biodiversity, but one gets extra funding as it is part of the National Parks family and one cannot even get a designation.

'What we have here are two of the most exciting biodiversity hotspots in the country. But if you are going to recognise that biodiversity and its value to the ecosystem then surely there should be some equality in terms of the resources going in.

'The Broads Authority have a 2011 budget of �6.69m, with over �4m coming from central government; the Brecks struggles to find its local authority-sourced budget of �76,000.'

The Brecks Partnership was told in an email from Natural England that 'we are having to turn away many good proposals following the first stage sift.'

It says: 'The Brecks proposal was strongest in aims and objectives, activity plans and delivery where it scored in the top third of all applications. Weaker elements of the application were sustainability and value for money, and monitoring and evaluation.

'We recognise the considerable potential in the Brecks' proposals and we would encourage you to investigate alternative sources of funding in order to take your plans forward.'

Mr Featherstone said: 'We felt our project was good value for money and in terms of the monitoring, I challenge any other organisation to prove they have a better database of what biodiversity they have and why it is there. That information means we could easily have monitored the changes brought about by the management schemes.

Mr Featherstone said the Brecks Partnership would now focus on creating a 'Brecks biodiversity delivery framework' to help co-ordinate management schemes and future funding bids.

'Everybody seems very keen,' he said. 'Although they're very disappointed with the NIA decision, they seem equally determined to take something forward.'

Breckland's 1,000 square kilometre landscape of open lowland heaths, knotted pines and farmland straddling the Norfolk-Suffolk border is home to almost 13,000 wildlife species – many of which are unique to the area.

A Natural England spokesman pointed out that virtually all of the Broads' income comes from its National Park grant and charges levied on boat owners. In terms of wildlife designations, he said while the Broads had 28 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Breckland had about 50.

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