Primary - Adding to quality of life - preserving the past: Archaeology and forests -The Warrens of Breckland

It is often difficult to see that trees benefit archaeology. However large plantations of woodland cover such a huge area they may have been established on top of historic remains. The fact that areas covered by plantations of trees are not subject (until harvesting) to soil disturbance has served to protect archaeological sites beneath them for centuries, unlike those sites on intensively farmed land.The Warrens of Breckland illustrate this very well, as many of the evident remains are within Thetford Forest. The practice of warrening or the farming of rabbits, was being carried out in Breckland from the late twelfth to the early twentieth century, with over 20 warrens covering huge areas by the 18th century, e.g. Brandon Warren which was estimated to be 2,800 acres. Warrens provided meat and fur and warreners were afforded high status. Warrens were bordered by large banks (as long as 10miles) which separated the warrens into the different ownership and were also used for trapping the rabbits.

Despite being a significant industry at one time very little research had been done on this history until 2008 when the Breckland Society as awarded a grant by English Heritage to research the archaeological and archive evidence. The project ended in 2010 and the report -The Warrens of Breckland was published.

The overview of the project pointed out that ‘the condition of the surviving banks depends on subsequent land use. Plantations of forestry have generally served to preserve banks, although these are sometimes damaged by harvesting machinery. However, the warrens which became arable land have often lost their banks to the plough and other agricultural activity’ (page 38)
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