Scientists are calling for radical new approaches to conservation following the first biodiversity audit of its kind.
Led by the University of East Anglia (UEA), with partners Natural England, the Forestry Commission, Norfolk and Suffolk Biodiversity Partnerships and County Councils, the Brecks Partnership, and Plantlife, the painstaking study pooled information on every plant and animal species recorded in Breckland -- a special landscape of heathland, forest and farmland stretching across the Norfolk and Suffolk border.
In an unprecedented effort, the UEA team collated records for a huge variety of species identified in the region, from the smallest gnat and tiniest beetle, through to birds, plants and mammals. The researchers were astonished to discover that 28 per cent of the UK's rare species were found in Breckland -- an area covering only 0.4 per cent of land in the UK.
This collaborative study's innovative, evidence-based methodology offers a more targeted and dynamic approach to conservation -- identifying what biodiversity is present in a region, where it is, and what it needs if it is to thrive.
With the help of 200 naturalists, UEA collated nearly a million records, showing that 12,500 species can be found in the region. Of these, more than 2,000 are of national conservation concern. The study is believed to be the first of its kind to consider every single species found in an entire region. The team went on to analyse the ecological needs of these 2,000 rare species, which allowed them to identify novel approaches for managing habitats to restore and protect this biodiversity. The report provides a manual for land managers, showing them what can be done to restore and conserve the unique biodiversity of the region.
Covering around 1000 km2, Breckland is one of the driest places in England and encompasses the largest lowland forest in the UK including the popular Thetford Forest Park. Because the sandy soil made ploughing easy, Breckland was one of the first places in England to be settled and its unique biodiversity remains dependent on people. The medieval word 'breck' means a fallow cropped field and the team found that these lightly cultivated fields were crucial to many species unique to the region -- but many of these farmland species are now extremely rare and threatened. "We need to put the brecks back into Breckland," said Dr Dolman.
Breckland boasts a range of other important habitats -- including the UK's only inland sand dunes, grazed heathland, pine forests and wetlands.
The report's key findings are:
The Breckland Biodiversity Audit will be launched in Thetford on November 30.
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