National Character Area 85

The Brecks - Key Characteristics

  • A largely open, gently undulating landscape with a low-lying, dry plateau that rises to the north. Subtle long slopes lead to alluvial flats containing shallow, meandering wooded river valleys.

  • The chalk solid geology lies close to the surface and is covered by thin deposits of sand and flint. The effects of repeated freeze and thaw in the tundra-like climate of the last ice age have produced intricate ground patterns, with patches of calcium-rich soils interspersed with acidic conditions.

  • Remnants of collapsed pingos and other ground-ice depressions which formed in periglacial conditions are typically found in the valleys, and are characteristic features at Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) such as Thompson Common, East Walton Common and Foulden Common.

  • Vast commercial conifer plantations form a forest landscape, unique in lowland England. The regular geometric shape and form and the repeated occurrence of plantations and shelterbelts unify the land cover pattern, forming wooded horizons and framing views into adjacent landscapes.

  • Predominantly agricultural land use focused on arable production, with planned courtyard farmsteads and large, regular 18th- and 19th century enclosure fields often clearly defined by Scots pine and beech shelterbelts or neat hawthorn hedges, indicative of large estate enclosure. The regular field layouts combine with long, straight, undulating roads to create a geometric landscape character.

  • Outdoor pigs and intensive indoor and outdoor poultry-rearing units are also characteristic.

  • Free-draining geology and soils with naturally low fertility support internationally important lowland heathland and mosaics of lowland acid and calcareous grassland that bring colour and textural variation to the landscape and provide a biodiversity-rich resource.

  • Narrow and meandering lush shallow river valleys (some of which contain unusually fast-flowing streams) form a marked but limited contrast to the dry, extensively arable upland catchment which they drain. All flow westward and are fed by nutrient-poor calcareous groundwater and support important wetland habitats.

  • A high concentration of important archaeological features, resulting from a long continuity of human settlement, include Neolithic flint mines, medieval churches, priories and rabbit warrens, 18th- and 19th-century designed parklands and estate villages, Second World War defence features and 20th-century abandoned settlements in the military training area known as the Stanford Training Area (STANTA).

  • The main population centre is Thetford with road and rail links radiating out from the town. The settlement pattern is sparse with nucleated villages scattered along the river valleys. Farm buildings and churches have considerable impact, but elsewhere the landscape is very empty. Large military air bases are a feature.

  • Traditional knapped flint, clunch (a form of impure chalk) and ‘white’ brick are characteristic building materials.

  • Away from the main A-road transport corridors where traffic is consistently busy including the A11, A1065 and A134, the area remains still and peaceful. On the approach roads to Swaffham, Watton and Thetford, vertical structures, including communications masts and the Swaffham and North Pickenham wind turbines, dominate the landscape.