National Character Area 83

South Norfolk and High Suffolk - Analysis: Landscape Attributes & Opportunities

Analysis supporting Statements of Environmental Opportunity

The following analysis section focuses on the landscape attributes and opportunities for this NCA.

Further analysis on ecosytem services for this NCA is contained in the Analysis: Ecosytem Services section.

Landscape attributes

The bedrock and superficial geology has produced a broadly flat plateau, dissected by small streams.

Justification for selection:

  • The plateau, with its dispersed settlement pattern, limited woodland, wide views and large skyscapes supports an undeveloped nature that generates a feeling of wildness, remoteness and tranquillity.
  • The plateau supports ancient organic pattern of fields, some co-axial in the north-east around the South Elmhams and IIketshalls. These field systems probably originated in the Late Saxon or early medieval periods so provide an important historical record of the landscape. Unfortunately this area suffered from a high rate of hedgerow removal in the 20th century and the ancient field patterns are now much weakened.
  • It is an area of modest landholdings, maintaining a link with the distant history of winning a patch of farmland from the primeval oak forest.
  • The small tributary streams provide the only relatively significant relief in this generally flat or gently undulating landscape.
  • The geology of the area represents an important stage of the geological history of the British Isles. Hoxne, the type-site for the Hoxnian Interglacial, has the renown of being the place where the great antiquity of humankind was first recognised – by a local antiquarian, John Frere, in 1797.

Moderately fertile chalky clay soils that support arable cultivation.

Justification for selection:

  • The heavy impermeable boulder clay plateau soils support high levels of arable cultivation. It is an important area for agriculture with 90 per cent of that land under cultivation; the predominance of this land use has helped maintain the overall open rural character of the NCA.
  • Cereal field margins in this area are important for farmland birds such as skylark, grey partridge and corn bunting, animals including brown hare and rare arable plants such as cornflower.
  • The water holding properties of the clay soils has meant that moated farmsteads have become a characteristic feature of the plateau adding to the sense of place.
  • Fragments of chalk in the clay give the semi-natural vegetation a generally calcareous character.

Ancient broadleaf woodland and wood pasture.

Justification for selection:

  • Trees are a notable element of the landscape. They provide a loosely wooded character due largely to treed lanes and hedgerow trees (predominantly oaks, ash, hornbeam and field maple).
  • Scattered ancient woodland parcels containing a mix of oak, cherry, hazel, field maple, hornbeam, ash and holly also contain evidence of centuries of woodland management, for example, wood banks, ditches, other earthworks and large coppice stools. They are important as they offer a direct link to historic landscapes.
  • Ancient woodland is a particularly important habitat and landscape asset having suffered a dramatic reduction in area over the last two centuries, as sites have been lost to development and agricultural intensification.
  • Ancient woodlands and areas of wood pasture provide a last refuge for unusual and specialised wildlife, sustaining rare lichens, fungi (oak polypore and beefsteak fungus); flora and fauna including oxlip and yellow archangel as well as spotted flycatcher, tree sparrow, turtle dove, barbastelle and Natterer’s bat. Ashwellthorpe Lower Wood, south-east from Wymondham, is home to White Admiral butterflies. They are especially important for invertebrates associated with decaying wood, including the stag beetle.
  • Where open to the public, woods provide opportunities to access nature in a historic cultural setting such as at Tyrrels Wood SSSI which is recorded in documents as far back as 1251, and is believed to have been present since the last ice age.

Ancient species-rich hedgerows that are found pre- dominantly around the edges of the plateau and in the small scale river valleys.

Justification for selection:

  • Species-rich hedgerows are particularly important for linking fragmented blocks of woodland habitat. In many places they provide substitute woodland habitat. They are an important habitat for many priority species including brown hare, skylark, grey partridge, song thrush, linnet, reed bunting, corn bunting, tree sparrow, bullfinch, and barberry carpet moth.
  • They are historically important features providing links to the past as they often delineate medieval enclosure and holding patterns, particularly so within the river valleys and in the northeast of the character area around the South Elmhams and IIketshalls.
  • Hedgerow trees, many of which are ancient pollards, form important landscape features and help distinguish local areas as many were planted on parish boundaries.
  • The removal of hedges to amalgamate fields in order to accommodate the large machines of modern arable farming has greatly weakened the earlier field patterns leading, in some places, to the creation of very open landscapes.


Small scale, intimate river valley flood plains supporting valley fens.

Justification for selection:

  • The shallow river valleys with their small scale pasture and wetland vegetation support a sense of both openness and enclosure, with pockets of intimacy that provide a strong contrast to the large, flat and exposed arable plateau that has lost its trees and field boundaries.
  • Dairying remains important in the Waveney Valley providing a contrast to the predominantly arable land use of the surrounding NCA.
  • The flat valley floor of the rivers Waveney and Little Ouse have a history of poor drainage leading to the deposition of extensive peat deposits in some areas. Where drained these peaty soils support high grade agricultural production.
  • The history of poor drainage in the river valleys has often prevented agricultural land uses taking place. Some areas of the valley floor have been utilised for poplar and ‘cricket bat’ willow plantations, while other areas have a cover of semi-natural wet woodland. This tree cover is an important component of the landscape that provides a contrast to the less wooded plateau.
  • The narrow grassland ribbons that form corridors through the arable supply grazing land for livestock, while also providing an important water flow regulation role.
  • The slow-moving water of the narrow winding rivers and their bank-side riparian vegetation provides ecological connectivity into the heart of the claylands. The riparian character of the valleys provides a unifying theme through the landscape.
  • The river catchments support water extractions for agriculture, industry and for human consumption, as well as supporting wetland habitats and biodiversity.
  • The valleys contain remnants of what were once extensive wetlands including, Redgrave and Lopham Fen. These dynamic, semi-natural systems provide the largest remaining river valley fen in England. Management is generally needed to maintain open fen communities and their related species richness. Without appropriate management and continued water supply, natural processes will lead to scrub and woodland forming.
  • The valley fens are unique as the water percolating through the chalk, sands and gravels that emerges as springs feeding the fens, is either calcareous or acidic in character, depending on the source. This complex hydrology and water chemistry has created incredibly diverse wetland plant communities and those that remain today are recognised as being of international importance.
  • Designations include the Norfolk Valley Fens SAC (alkaline fens), Waveney and Little Ouse Valley Fens SAC (calcareous fens) including, Redgrave and Lopham Fens SSSI, which is a Ramsar site in its own right. They support several distinct fen vegetation types, ranging from Molinia-based grasslands, mixed sedge fen to reed-dominated fen. There are also small areas of wet heath and Carr woodland. Plant species include fragrant orchid, bog pimpernel, marsh helleborine, and adders tongue. The invertebrate fauna is extensive and Redgrave and Lopham Fens is the only British locality for the fen raft spider. Desmoulins’s whorl snail and the narrow-mouthed whorl snail are also present. Both are rare in Europe and qualify the fens as SAC. Water vole, otter and barn owl are also present.
  • Redgrave and Lopham Fens have been restored in an internationally recognised restoration project, costing approximately £3.4 million.
  • A certain amount of mineral extraction in the river valleys in the 20th century has left a legacy of large lakes that are now important sites for wildlife, especially for large numbers of wildfowl.

Landscape opportunities

  • Encourage sustainable land management that does not detract from the existing rural character of the landscape, benefits agricultural production for local markets reduces soil erosion and diffuse pollution and enables landscape and habitat enhancement.
  • Conserve the tranquil, intact, rural quality of the river valleys and their distinctive open pastoral character, their diversity of habitats and strong market town character, especially along the Waveney.
  • Protect and conserve the valley fens from further fragmentation by resisting inappropriate land use and development and promoting traditional management practices, for their contribution to the historic record of traditional landscapes, their biodiversity value and contribution to the sense of place.
  • Link and extend, or create new river valley pasture and seek opportunities to create more permanent grassland to buffer semi-natural habitats such as valley fens, as appropriate, through the uptake of agri-environment options.
  • Protect the historic enclosed field pattern, with its characteristic winding lanes and boundary hedges, from further agricultural rationalisation.
  • Manage and enhance existing arable farmland for wildlife by conserving and reinstating hedgerows and ponds, increasing areas of set aside and adopting wildlife friendly land management practices.
  • Enhance the species-rich hedgerow network, encouraging the uptake of agri-environment options that aid replanting where they have been lost. Positively manage and maintain those which have become neglected, to strengthen the historical field patterns, improve wildlife networks and enhance landscape character.
  • Protect and conserve the historic greens and commons from further fragmentation by resisting inappropriate land use and development, promoting traditional management practices, that enables landscape and habitat enhancement.
  • Enhance the character and the mosaic of habitat networks within the farmed landscape including the restoration of field ponds and ancient species rich hedgerows and by maximising agricultural diversity where appropriate.
  • Re-create areas of historic wood pasture, particularly in association with areas of remnant parkland landscape, responding to the shape, size and location of existing woodland.
  • The creation and management of small- to medium-sized woods should be considered on the plateau edges and in areas adjacent to existing woods. Ensure deer control is undertaken to help reduce damage and the subsequent decline in the condition of woodlands.
  • Manage and enhance the deciduous ancient woodlands and field boundary trees, for their contribution to the sense of place, sense of history, biodiversity value and recreational value, as well as their retention of greenhouse gases. This is particularly important in view of the threat from ash die-back, as ash is a common hedgerow and woodland species across the NCA. Plan for a landscape depleted of ash by planting replacement hedgerow tree species such as oak, hornbeam and field maple, which are also characteristic of the area. Create new pollards on field boundaries.
  • Maintain the quality and knowledge of archaeological evidence and historic built features and enhance public awareness of the breadth of historic wealth by conserving in context or, where this is impossible, rescue and record and interpret the historic landscape features.
  • Conserve the rural settlement pattern by ensuring that new development is complementary to intrinsic local character, by using traditional materials in new developments especially the use of colour-washed render and avoiding the use of inappropriate steeply pitched slate roofs.
  • Conserve the strongly nucleated character of settlements by encouraging new development to take place within the existing curtilage of settlements.
  • Protect historic farmsteads and traditional farm buildings from inappropriate and unrecorded conversion to conserve the traditional character of the rural landscape.