How did the Broads Form?
Only after the 1950s was it understood the broads were manmade. In the 12th-century, agriculture made East Norfolk the most densely populated area in Britain. Shortage of timber encouraged peat digging to provide an alternative fuel. This continued for 200-years, until the massive holes that had been dug gradually began to fill with water as sea levels rose. Regular flooding stopped peat extraction, and as these holes filled, over 200 km of navigable lakes and rivers formed – providing channels of transportation to boost commerce throughout the 16th-century. Norwich became the second largest city after London, with its goods of wool, weaving and agricultural produce exported throughout the world from the port of Great Yarmouth.
Many of the broads and rivers formed became surrounded by fens, consisting of water and reed. Centuries later, these fens were drained to provide grazing marshland for cattle - and then using an intricate system of dykes, dry fields were created. About 200-years ago, wind pumps were built to drain the marshes by pumping water along the dykes and back up into the rivers. Steam and diesel power replaced wind, and now electric pumps are used. Most “windmills” in Norfolk, are really wind pumps, never intended for milling.
Norfolk Broads Wild Life
The Norfolk Broads is Britain's largest protected wetland with national park status. Its lakes, interlaced with rivers and dykes, are home to some of the rarest plants, animals, birds, and insects in the UK. Leave your car and experience the tranquility of being close to nature. Hire a boat and lazily cruse the Bure to see moorhens stirring in the rushes, walk or cycle along riverside paths to visit nature reserves and explore pretty villages.
Britain’s largest butterfly with a three-inch wingspan, the swallowtail, can only be found in the broads. The caterpillars feed on milk parsley growing among the reeds. During May, the pupa hatch and you can see them fluttering on sunny days among colourful dragonfly. You can also observe the shy otter and water vole, swimming, or scurrying the river banks.
The broads are a haven for rare birds, like the bittern with a wingspan over 100cms. Found hidden in the reed beds feeding on fish, frogs and insects, with its water-level nest built from dead reeds. It’s a large buff-brown bird similar to the heron, with loose throat feathers and short legs. The male makes a foghorn-like booming sound which can travel up to 5km on a calm night. The coot is more common, having a plump sooty-grey body and black head. The bearded tit climbs the reed stems nimbly feeding on insects and reed seeds, and the male has a very distinctive black facial stripe and a blue-grey cap. Other birds on the broads are the snipe, redshank, and the sedge and reed warblers.
The broads also attract an abundance of wild flowers. The delicate ragged robin and cuckoo flower – or showier blooms like the lily, willow herb and loosestrife, can be seen in the spring. Then there are figworts and burr marigolds all with their own individual charm. Some flora has medicinal powers, like the valerian, with its delicate cluster of pale pink flowers, thought to fight infection.
Butterfly & kingfisher photos by Andy Thompsom - to see more of his Norfolk pictures click here
For details on booking Bure Cottage click here