The Broads (also commonly referred to as the 'Norfolk Broads') is an historic and scenic area in the east of the English county of Norfolk, close to the Suffolk border and also extending into that county. It consists of a network of mostly navigable rivers, lakes and marshes. A large portion of the Broads now falls within the irregular boundaries of the recently gazetted Broads National Park.
For many years the broads were regarded as natural features of the landscape. It was only in the 1960s that Dr Joyce Lambert proved that they were artificial features, the effect of flooding on early peat excavations.
The Romans first exploited the rich peat beds of the area for fuel, and in the Middle Ages the local monasteries began to excavate the peat lands as a business, selling fuel to Norwich and Great Yarmouth. Then the sea levels began to rise, and the pits began to flood. Despite the construction of windpumps and dykes, the flooding continued and resulted in the typical Broads landscape of today, with its reed beds, grazing marshes and wet woodland.
The Broads largely follows the line of the rivers and natural navigations of the area. There are seven navigable rivers, the River Yare and its (direct and indirect) tributaries the Rivers Bure, Thurne, Ant, Waveney, Chet and Wensum.
The broads themselves range in size from small pools to the large expanses of Hickling Broad, Barton Broad and Breydon Water. The broads are unevenly distributed, with far more broads in the northern half of Broadland (the Rivers Bure, Thurne and Ant) than in the central and southern portions (the Rivers Yare, Waveney, Chet and Wensum).
Some of the larger broads form nationally important freshwater marshes.
Flora and fauna
The Broads are a very important remnant of the wetlands that once dominated much of the East Anglia. A number of species found here are very scarce in the United Kingdom and even found nowhere else.
The birdlife is especially popular with visitors and specialist broad-land species include Bittern, Marsh Harrier and Bearded Tit.
The spectacular yellow and black Swalllowtail Butterfly is found at many locations in The Broads, but nowhere else in the whole of the UK.
Within the confines of the Broads National Park, there are several important conservation areas. Some of the larger specific reserve areas include:
- Bure Marshes NNR
- Ant Broads & Marshes NNR including the major wetland of Barton Broad
- Hickling Broad NNR. near Stalham in Norfolk is a large and important wetland reserve.
- Ludham - Potter Heigham NNR, near Potter Heigham in Norfolk.
- Redgrave and Lopham Fen in Suffolk is the largest remaining river valley fen anywhere in England and is especially important for its rare insect life.
- Martham Broad NNR near Martham in Norfolk is a scenic open broad which is navigable but also run as a nature reserve.
- Strumpshaw Fen RSPB reserve in the Yare Valley near Norwich in Norfolk is an important wintering ground for waterfowl and raptors, and a breeding ground for many specialist marshland species.
Since the Norfolk Broads is now the UK’s largest nationally protected wetland and an important area for wildlife, there are plenty of outdoor activities to do. You won't find any clubbing spots here but there are many family pub restaurants along the Broads.
One of the main activities is to rent a boat and cruise along the river for a few days, stopping at pubs along the way.
- Richardson's Boating Holidays, The Staithe, ☎ +44 8447705213. Provides cruisers from 2 - 12 berth along the Norfolk Broads.
- The Broads - A unique National Park. Of all the National Parks, the Broads has a unique combination of land and water space. This Amazon Kindle guide by Clive Tully explores the history of the landscape, its wildlife, recreation opportunities and places to visit.
- Waterside Breaks (Norfolk Broads Holiday Cottage & Lodges), Wroxham, Norfolk (Wroxham, Horning, Potter Heigham), ☎ +44 1252 339020. Selection of waterside cottages & lodges on the Norfolk Broads