The Wetland Book pp 1023-1037 | Cite as

Wetlands of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads (UK)

  • Andrea Kelly
Reference work entry


The Broads is renowned as one of the UK’s premier wetlands and its third largest system for inland navigation. A unique and globally important landscape, it has been shaped and nurtured by its inhabitants since at least Roman times. The Broads Authority executive area encompasses an area of 303 km2 in Norfolk and North Suffolk, nestled between the urban areas of Norwich to the west and Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft to the east, with a short coastal strip and an estuary at Breydon Water. The Broads lies at the bottom end of the much larger Broadland Rivers Catchment, with water flowing through or under it and out to sea.

This low-lying, mainly open and undeveloped wetland landscape is an interconnected mosaic of rivers, shallow lakes, fens, drained marshland, wet woodland, saltmarshes, intertidal mudflats and various coastal formations. Water, not surprisingly, is the vital element that links everything in this landscape, and its careful and integrated management is central to everything in this plan.

Each habitat has its own distinctive characteristics and hosts a wealth of species, many rare and some unique to the Broads within the UK. The importance of the area is borne out by a range of national and international designations in recognition of its landscape, nature conservation and cultural features.

The Broads is also a dynamic, living landscape. Over the centuries its natural, cultural and built features have been shaped by the way peat diggers, traders and merchants, reed cutters and thatchers, farmers and fishermen have lived and worked. The shallow lakes referred to as ‘broads’ originated as great pits dug for peat to provide fuel during medieval times. Around the 14th century, these peat diggings flooded and became part of an extensive communication network for transporting fuel, building materials including reed for thatch, and livestock and their products, especially wool.

Looking ahead, the Broads will continue to be influenced and shaped by environmental, social, economic, technological and political change. Some of the biggest challenges facing this easterly, low-lying freshwater wetland are likely to come from the projected more rapid changes to the climate, together with sea level rise. Other significant changes in global, national and regional economies, patterns in leisure and tourism, demands on food and energy resources, and population growth and demands for housing and infrastructure in the East of England will also have an impact on the landscape and communities of the Broads.

While we cannot predict what the Broads will look like in 50 or 100 years’ time, understanding and responding now to the challenges ahead will help us to plan a longer term future that maintains the area as a unique, special and valued landscape for generations to come, even if it does not stay the same as it is now. As part of the UK National Parks family and global network of protected landscapes, the Broads has a vital role to play in demonstrating how wetland resources can be managed sustainably for the benefit of both nature and people.


Wetland Water Lake restoration Fen management Peat digging Eutrophication control Ecosystem services 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Broads AuthorityNorwichUK

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