The story so far
Back in 2010, there was a meeting of the Brecks Forum on the Stanford Training Area (STANTA) at which Paul Dolman, Professor of Conservation Ecology at UEA, introduced the findings of the Brecks Biodiversity Audit (BBA).
Conservationists and farmers discussed the fragmentation of habitat in the Brecks, where superb Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) such as STANTA, Bridgham Heath, Grimes Graves and Barnham Camp are interspersed with commercial forestry and high yielding farmland.
The concept of links and corridors was discussed, and soon after a small group of farmers worked together to create the ‘Harling Biodiversity Corridor’, allowing Bridgham Heath, Brettenham Heath and Knettishall Heath to be linked by sympathetic and proactive farmers enhancing habitat between the various heaths.
Thanks to advice from Plantlife, who have been supportive throughout, we hope to move livestock along this corridor to provide a novel way of aiding rare plant colonisations by moving seeds between sites.
Subsequent to the Breckland Biodiversity Audit, extensive research has been carried out on the largest remaining parcel of semi-natural grassland in Breckland by PhD student Rob Hawkes, under the auspices of Professor Paul Dolman and UEA. This research has unequivocally demonstrated the vital role of disturbed land in habitat enhancement for threatened Breckland species. See the main findings.
At the same time, Breckland Farmers Wildlife Network (BFWN) has been formed by farmers right across the Brecks, with a view to building on this work by establishing more cultivated margins with better linkage across and between farms.
Full steam ahead - Our DEFRA tests and trials project
In May 2020 we secured funding from DEFRA to take our vision forward with Rob Hawkes, James Gilroy and Paul Dolman at the University of East Anglia. Furthering the all-important ground work of the Breckland Biodiversity Audit this project is exploring the distribution of 500+ priority plant and invertebrate species across the East of England with the aim of developing analytical tools to help the members of the BFWN improve landscape scale ecological connectivity, namely through uncropped cultivated margins. The funding is effectively a for a Test prior to DEFRA’s new Environment Land Management (ELM) scheme.
Stage 1 (July 2020 – October 2020)
Ensure these margins are implemented in the best locations for priority biodiversity, Rob Hawkes uses existing biodiversity data to model ‘ideal’ locations to implement cultivated uncropped margins at the farm and landscape scale. Specially emphasis will be placed on connecting neighbouring landowners to create a ‘biodiversity corridor’.
Stage 2 (November 2020 – December 2020)
A series of one to one or small group meetings with each landowner to find the balance between the ‘ideal’ locations and what is practical on each farm.
Stage 3 (January 2021)
Once each participant has fed into this work, everyone brought together to discuss the proposed landscape-scale management plan. Seek further feedback from the group and discuss how and when each participant can adopt these findings to deliver their recommendations
Stage 4 (February 2021 – May 2021)
Rob writes up the landcape-scale management plan with the final implementation maps included. This will be circulated to all the participants upon completion.
A scarce weevil that is found in Breckland
These analytical tools show where – on each farm – cultivated margins are likely to be particularly effective for priority biodiversity. The below image shows an example output of this process – a ‘heat’ map, from one of our estates, which indicates where cultivated margin placement is likely to be most effective for the suite of priority plant and invertebrate species that we are trying to enhance.
Every farm that has joined our network has their own bespoke heat map. Collectively, these maps are allowing us to target margin placement in the best areas across the Breckland landscape – allowing evidence-led, landscape-scale conservation delivery.
For more information about our Tests and Trials project, please see this BFWN pamphlet.