Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The beauty of the Brecks

1st May

It’s been a very long day and I’ve seen far too much to catalogue here. In the briefest summary of today’s Brecks bonanza:


Time: 6:30 to 7:30am.

Place: NWT Wayland Wood. (Just beautiful. You really have to visit. Do it. Now.)

Plants: Great slicks of brilliant bluebells (woods that turn blue in the spring: what an idea!) all tastefully sprinkled with early purple orchids, yellow archangel, and the first brazen boudoir-pink flowers of red campion: a visual coup that would bring Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to his knees; water avens, barren strawberry and wild strawberry tiptoeing into flower; common dog violets smiling here and there; stands of young hornbeams, their sinuous trunks stretching to the sky like the bodies of Grecian athletes.

Animals: Blackcaps tootling lustily from the hazel coppice; a nuthatch giving his strident Trimphone trill; a nonchalant roebuck rising from a bed of bluebells at my approach.

There used to be golden pheasants here. Are there still? I saw or heard nothing of them.


Time: 7:45 to 9:00am.

Plants: Crooked old Scots pines awaiting the return of redstarts (but home to a very cross Egyptian goose); glaucous leaves of hound’s-tongue poking from the scuffed earth of bunny burrows; a crab-apple, spectacular in pearl and carmine blossom.

Animals: No redstarts yet: I’ll have to come back soon; a hundred-rook din over the pines and the nibbling of five-hundred rabbits on the sandy breck; new-born Shetland lambs on wobbly knobbly legs, their grazing mothers helping NWT keep this rare place as beautiful and biodiverse as when, each spring, Sydney Long would visit in search of then-nesting wheatears.
Sights: Sydney Long’s memorial in the woods’ edge on the shore of Langmere. A fitting spot to honour a man of rare vision, a passionate lover of Norfolk’s wild places, and the founder of the first county Wildlife Trust.

Dr Sydney Long 1870-1939, founder of NWT, reproduced with permission.

In 1926, however, Sydney Long realised another great idea that had long been simmering in his mind. This was that Norfolk should form a county trust – the first of its kind in the country – to acquire and manage nature reserves of its own. He began by buying in his own name the 400 acres of Cley Marshes, which lay to the east of Blakeney harbour, and were thus complementary to the National Trust’s Blakeney Point reserve. A week later, at a luncheon at the George Hotel at Cley, he put to a party of his friends the idea of a county naturalists trust. In a summary of his reasons, he was prophetic:
‘When one considers that the changes in the face of the county that are being made or contemplated by Forestry Commissioners, Drainage Boards, speculative builders and the like, one is anxious to preserve for future generations areas of marsh, heath, woods and undrained fenland (of which there still remain a few acres in the county) with their natural wealth of flora and fauna. At the present time most of Broadland is in the hands of owners who can be relied upon not to interfere with the natural beauties of the district, but who can say what will happen in a hundred or even in ten years’ time?’

Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust (now Norfolk Wildlife Trust)
Nature in Norfolk: A Heritage in Trust

Memorial to Sydney Long at East Wretham, from the NWT archive, reproduced with permission.

Hen harrier over Langmere, a watercolour by NWT stalwart J. C. Harrison, reproduced with NWT permission.


Time: 10:00am to 3:00pm.

Place: Leading a walk for NWT along the Great Eastern Pingo Trail, including much of NWT Thompson Common.

Plants: Tangled woods of beech, English oak, East Anglian elm, spindle, rowan and alder; quiet moschatel blooming by a quiet roadside; shoots of yellow pimpernel and enchanter’s nightshade: the promise of summer flowers to come.

Animals: A swirl, a swell, a swoop of swifts, swallows and house martins over Thompson Water: dozens and dozens of them driven down by the cool grey sky; two common terns here, in flawless silver spring plumage, the first I’ve seen since I left Sri Lanka six weeks ago; a reed warbler – at last a reed warbler! – chuntering in the still-wintry reed by the hide; sturdy koniks browsing the breck scrub and roe peering from a farmer’s field as if to ask by what right we wandered there.

These and a thousand other things, natural and historical, made this a beautiful day in the Brecks. How grateful I am to Sydney Long for his vision to protect these precious places, and to NWT for honouring his vision still.

New in the Brecks today


Eurasian reed warbler
Acrocephalus scirpaceus

2012 Totals
Mammals: 55
Birds: 456
Reptiles: 12
Amphibians: 6
Fish: 3

1 comment:

  1. I love that picture of Sydney Long. I have it in my office wall, keeping a kindly eye on things...