Rabbits help restore unique habitat in Norfolk and Suffolk


Rabbits have become an unlikely hero in efforts to restore a unique habitat in Norfolk and Suffolk, including improving the plight of some rare species.

The Quicksand project which is a partnership of 10 organizations led by Natural England, has helped create 5 km of ‘wildlife routes’.

The result has seen over 100 rare plant specimens reintroduced, habitat created and restored at 12 sites, species encouraged and landscape management practices improved.

Lunar absinthe beetle, the Brecks, Credit: Brian eversham

The result has been an increase in the number of seven species of plants, birds and insects and many more are benefiting in turn.

Among the species that recover are rare plants such as the prostrate perennial knawel which is unique to Brecks, thyme basil and wormwood.

The endangered wormwood moon beetle, yellow moon moth under the wings and the five-banded hollow-tailed wasp are also on the increase.

All of these species are identified in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan as priorities for conservation.

And the most surprising species to benefit from all this work has been the European rabbit, which is often considered a pest.

However, for some ecosystems, the rabbit is a “key species”.

Their grazing and digging activity keeps the soil in perfect condition to support other species that would otherwise move – or become extinct.

In partnership with the University of East Anglia, Natural England has encouraged a rabbit revolution in the Brecks.

The open habitat maintained by the rabbits is home to two rare plants: the prostrate perennial knawel – found nowhere else in the world – and field wormwood.

Shifting Sands project manager at Natural England, Pip Mountjoy, said the project’s intervention provided a lifeline for species in the region.

“The Brecks were described by Charles Dickens as ‘sterile’. They are anything but,” she said.

“The 370 square miles of sandy moorland, open meadows and forests are home to almost 13,000 species, making it one of the UK’s most important areas for wildlife,” said Pip Mountjoy.

The army of volunteers supporting the work of the Brecks Credit: Natural england

Much of the work was done by an army of volunteers. Over 400 of them spent 640 days on the project and received training in surveying techniques and species identification.

Local volunteer groups such as the Breckland Flora Group monitor these rare species across the Brecks and have contributed immensely to the project.

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