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From wormwood moonshiners to basil-thyme case-bearers – 16 rare Breckland species you may never have heard of

PUBLISHED: 15:00 02 April 2017 | UPDATED: 15:07 02 April 2017

A typical Breckland landscape. Photo: Angela Sharpe

A typical Breckland landscape. Photo: Angela Sharpe

Archant © 2005

Ever heard of wormwood moonshiners, basil-thyme case-bearers, or prostrate perennial knawel?

Adult stone curlew. Picture: Chris Knights/rspb-images.comAdult stone curlew. Picture: Chris Knights/rspb-images.com

These little-known rarities are part of a unique miscellany of wildlife which is set to benefit from a £500,000 project to preserve the special species and habitats of the Brecks – part of the £4.6m Heritage Lottery Funded project called Back from the Brink.

The 16 key target species for the project are:

Plants:

•Field wormwood

• Prostrate perennial knawel

• Fine-leaved sandwort

• Red-tipped cudweed

Brecks wildlife: Prostrate Perennial Knawel. Picture: Alex Prendergast, Natural EnglandBrecks wildlife: Prostrate Perennial Knawel. Picture: Alex Prendergast, Natural England

• Spring speedwell

• Basil thyme

• Purple milk-vetch

• Tower mustard

Invertebrates:

•Basil-thyme case-bearer moth

•Wormwood moonshiner beetle

A lunar-yellow underwing moth - one of the rare species that will benefit from the Brecks' Heritage Lottery Fund award. Photo: CONTRIBUTEDA lunar-yellow underwing moth - one of the rare species that will benefit from the Brecks' Heritage Lottery Fund award. Photo: CONTRIBUTED

• Lunar-yellow underwing moth

• Grey carpet moth

• Forester moth

• 5-Banded tailed digger wasp

Birds:

• Stone curlew

• Woodlark

Field wormwood. Photo: PLANTLIFEField wormwood. Photo: PLANTLIFE

HOW THE FUNDING WILL BE SPENT

The Breckland region, spanning the Norfolk-Suffolk border, is renowned throughout Europe for its biodiversity.

The funding aims to enable conservationists to rescue rare species and their habitats, with the help of landowners and public volunteers.

One deceptively destructive conservation method will be to scrape away topsoil to create the nutrient-poor environment which originally opened the door to the rare species and Breckland specialists which now thrive there.

Karen Kramer Wilson, Natural England’s development officer for the Brecks project, said: “In King’s Forest (south of Elveden) the Forestry Commission is leading an ambitious piece of work to clear and turn over the soil, and expose the soil underneath which is so important to Brecks species.

“On other sites it will be shallow scraping of the soil to remove the top layer, allowing the nutrients to leach.

“As a former agronomist, it seems counter-intuitive. But that is the irony of the Brecks.

Brecks wildlife: Moonshiner beetle. Picture: John WaltersBrecks wildlife: Moonshiner beetle. Picture: John Walters

“It is recreating the bare ground and nutrient-poor environment that many Brecks species need. They need that disturbance which used to be created by rabbits and warrening and the Brecks way of farming.

“One of my favourite species is the moonshiner beetle, and one of the volunteer activities we are planning is night surveys to look for this little beetle.

“These species are hard to recognise so we want to alert people to the fact that this unique animal is hanging out on their doorstep.

“People know about animals like polar bears which are very impressive and endangered, but these are Breckland’s ‘polar bears’.”

The project will also aim to improve the conservation strategies for key species such as prostrate perennial knawel – a globally-restricted plant which is only found at three sites in the Brecks.

Other partners include Plantlife, University of East Anglia, Butterfly Conservation Trust, Norfolk Wildlife Trust and Buglife as well as land managers such as the Elveden Estate.

A SPECIAL LANDSCAPE

The Brecks is special because of its climate, geology and history. Unlike most of the UK’s “maritime” climate which tends to be mild and wet, the Brecks is more like a continental climate with low rainfall, hot in the summer and with more frosts in the winter than other lowland areas.

This, together with its mix of chalk and sandy soils and its history of human management, created unique habitats which support some of the country’s rarest wildlife.

Dramatic changes in land use in the 20th century detsroyed most of the heath and dune habitats which had been maintained since Roman times as rabbit warrens with occasional ploughing. The planting of Thetford Forest from the 1920s, and new post-war irrigation technology meant most of the area disappeared under the plough and commercial forestry. Meanwhile the myxomatosis epidemic killed 99pc of the rabbit population which had, for centuries, maintained the short swards and open habitat unique to the Brecks.

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