Thetford common is the focus of rare plant revival
PUBLISHED: 09:00 14 September 2015 | UPDATED: 09:51 14 September 2015
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2015
Just a three-minute stroll from the centre of Thetford, Barnham Cross Common has long been a popular spot not only for joggers and dog walkers but also botanists.
The site is home to more than 120 species of rare and nationally threatened wildflowers and is regarded as of international importance.
But recent decades have seen the decline of many of these, because
of changes in land management practices and the loss of traditional grazing methods.
As a result, 13 wildflowers, among them the spring speedwell, Spanish catchfly and purple-stem cat’s tail, have vanished from the area.
However, work is now under way to bring the species back to the 165-acre common – a site of special scientific interest – under a project run by wildlife organisation Plantlife and Thetford Town Council.
The restoration scheme is using management and restoration techniques that have been trialled for the last three years in the Brecks, such as opening up grassland with turf stripping, scrub clearance, cattle and sheep grazing and encouraging rabbits.
Volunteers are helping by monitoring the project and carrying out surveys.
The project is funded by Bridgham-based non-profit-making environmental body Wren and comes as Plantlife says some wildflowers are disappearing from the Brecks – one of the top four places in the UK for wild plants.
Tim Pankhurst, conservation manager for Plantlife, said: “The Brecks is known as a Mecca for
its rare wildflowers and Barnham Cross Common used to be one of the best places to see Breckland species.
“Despite best efforts this is no longer the case – intervention is needed to halt the decline facing this culturally important habitat, here, and beyond the project site.
“Thanks to funding from Wren, we are working with partners and volunteers to carry out key management and restoration work. We hope it won’t be too long before we see all 13 Breckland species back where they belong at Barnham Cross Common.”
The common is also of archaeological interest and Plantlife is taking a collaborative approach with archaeologists that is in keeping with the site.
Some the wildflowers plants and their environments:
Fingered speedwell – Typically found in the margin of fields sown with winter cereals and also on fallow land.
Sickle medick – Confined as a native plant to East Anglia, especially Breckland. It is found on chalky soils and sands, and does not tolerate grazing or mowing.
Tower mustard – Usually grows on poor chalky or sandy soils, in open situations. Tower mustard has declined by 70pc since the 1930s.
Purple-stem cat’s tail – Found on free-draining sandy or chalky soils, especially in Breckland where it occurs on grazed grass heaths, road verges and track-side banks, and in the vicinity of pits, rabbit warrens and other disturbed places.
Bur medick – Found on dry, open, sandy ground in East Anglia and Kent.
Silene otites (also known as Spanish catchfly) – Confined to Breckland grass heaths and roadsides, where open, disturbed ground provides sites for seedlings.
Spring speedwell – Found in sandy, calcareous soils; now only exists in 13 locations in the Brecks.
Wall bedstraw – This has declined by 45pc since the 1930s.