Over the Brink in the Brecks!

When we think of extinction, we often think of far flung places; tropical rain-forests, charismatic megafauna, tigers and polar bears. Whilst it’s true that this is a global wildlife epidemic, and that we’re in the midst of the 6th major mass extinction, this is not something just happening elsewhere. Species are disappearing from our backyards and local nature reserves, posing a very real threat to British biodiversity.

I’d like to share with you the East Anglian species that have gone over the brink, and those that are on the precipice. 25 species, previously recorded in Breckland, are now considered to be nationally extinct; ranging from flowers and mosses to beetles and moths. These plants & animals (though often small, quiet, unobtrusive) are significant. They played a role in the ecosystem, and in the grander picture of global biodiversity. They have been wiped out on a local and national scale (known as extirpation), and some are at risk of being lost forever, becoming globally extinct.

Extinct in England, 1990 - Spotted Sulphur         Extinct in England, 1999 - Starry Breck lichen            Extinct in UK, 1944 - Lamb's Succory
(Emmelia trabealis)                                                          (Buellia asterella)                                                                       (Arnoseris minima)

The drivers of the decline of UK biodiversity are too vast and complex to fully explore here, but key factors include habitat loss, climate change and changing nutrient cycles. The Brecks is an area of extremes, famed for hot summers and hard frosts, with sandy & chalky soils forming extremely dry, low nutrient habitats. It’s a unique landscape, and highly susceptible to these threats. Shifting Sands aims to secure a future for those species that are right on the brink of extinction - Prostrate perennial knawel, for example, now naturally occurs on only two sites on earth, both within the Brecks. The Wormwood moonshiner beetle has one confirmed UK population remaining, on a small patch of land within a Suffolk housing estate. Its’ favourite food plant, Field Wormwood (also known as Breckland Wormwood) is entirely restricted to the area, and declining.

Critically endangered, Breckland specialist     Critically endangered, Breckland specialist                     Critically endangered, Breckland specialist
Prostrate perennial knawel                                    Wormwood Moonshiner (Amara fusca)                               Field Wormwood (Artemisia campestris)
(Scleranthus perennis subsp. prostratus)

Shifting Sands’ work focuses on restoring areas of declining habitat; stripping away enriched soil and turf, restoring the open mosaic of habitats that these species need to survive. By reintroducing plants where they’ve been locally extirpated, we aim to build resilience in at-risk populations, giving them (and the animals that rely on them) the best chance at adapting and surviving in a changing climate. Sometimes we need to look back at what we’ve lost to appreciate the importance of the wonderful wildlife that remains. We all have our part to play in bringing wildlife back from the brink.


Pip Mountjoy

Shifting Sands Keystone Species Officer



Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.


3 thoughts on “Over the brink in the Brecks

  1. Hi, I’m an UEA student studying Climate Change.
    Could you please share the source and reference about extinction species in Breckland if you have?
    I am currently doing research on biodiversity in Breckland.

    Thank you.

  2. Hi Maki,
    Of course! These numbers and species examples are taken from the 2010 Breckland Biodiversity Audit by Dolman et al. – pages 105 & 106, Table 18.

    The citation is Dolman, P.M., Panter, C.J., Mossman, H.L. (2010) Securing Biodiversity in Breckland: Guidance for Conservation and Research. First Report of the Breckland Biodiversity Audit. University of East Anglia, Norwich.

    It’s a fantastic report, worth exploring!

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