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The Brecks - East Anglia's Secret

Helen Mark visits East Anglia's best kept secret, the Brecks around Thetford - a combination of sandy heathland, England's largest lowland forest and some highly productive farms.

Helen Mark visits East Anglia's best kept secret, the Brecks around Thetford - a combination of sandy heathland, England's largest lowland forest and some highly productive farms.

Scraped clean by the last ice age, the poor sandy soil meant the Brecklands that straddle Norfolk and Suffolk were marginal land, sandy and unproductive. Rabbits were a major industry, reared on vast warrens for meat and fur, their dung collected for fertiliser. Fields were snatched from the heathland for a season, then left fallow to recover. Visiting the large farm operation at Elveden Estate, Helen hears how the use of fertilisers and irrigation has allowed the land to become extremely productive for high value crops like onions, carrots and potatoes.

Thetford Forest was planted with conifers after the First World War to create England's largest lowland forest, squeezing out much of the original heathland, home to rare plants and birds, such as the stone curlew. At Weeting Reserve, run by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Helen is shown one of these distinctive birds, also known as goggle-eyed plovers.

The Brecks is also home to Grimes Graves, a prehistoric flint mine, that provided the highest quality stone implements before the invention of metal. Will Lord, who brings the Brecks' Stone Age past alive for visitors, knaps a great lump of flint into a very sharp hand axe for Helen. To her cost, she finds out just how sharp it is.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

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