The Broads IPA

Location: In East Anglia, lying between the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts and the city of Norwich.

Grid Reference: TG 349 159

The Broads IPA has been recognised as one of 165 Important Plant Areas in the UK.

The key features of this IPA are:

  • One of the UK’s most important populations of Fen Orchid
  • The species richness of stoneworts in base-rich fens and surface standing waters
  • The species richness of vascular plants in surface standing waters and base-rich fens (fen, marsh, swamp)
  • One of the best UK examples of threatened habitats of:
    Calcareous fens with Great Fen Sedge;
    Nutrient-poor waters with Stonewort algae;
    Nutrient rich lakes with abundant vegetation;
    Alkaline fens;
    Flood plain and riverside forests with Alder;
    Mires and quaking bogs with both calcareous and acidic vegetation
  • The Broads is Britain's largest nationally-protected wetland area and its rivers, broads (shallow lakes), marshes and fens form a unique complex of wildlife habitats. Its watery network covers an area of 303 sq. kms and has the status of a national park.

    Six rivers link the shallow lakes of the Broads and make up a total of 200km of waterways. There are more than 60 broads which range from small, isolated lakes to huge expanses of water. Formed in medieval times when peat was dug to use as fuel, they became flooded as water levels rose over the centuries. The rich variety of habitats ranges from shallow lakes and marshes to fen (boggy areas of peatland) and carr woodland (unmanaged areas of fen where small shrubs and trees have developed).

    The Broads provide perfect homes for a wealth of plants. The fens and grazing marshes alone support more than 250 different plant species, many of which cannot be found anywhere else in lowland Britain. The fen orchid and crested buckler fern are two rare examples. Ragged robin is another important plant of the fens, which along with meadow thistle provides a vital food source for the adult swallowtail butterfly. The area is criss-crossed by dykes which themselves are often home to water plants, such as water soldier, bladderwort and frogbit. The freshwater broads, rich in pondweeds, are recognised as being of international importance. Typical plants of the "tall-herb fen" include common reed, meadowsweet, hemp agrimony and purple and yellow loosestrifes, with local specialities including marsh fern, cowbane, greater water-parsnip, greater spearwort, marsh-pea and marsh sow-thistle.

    Areas of shorter fenland vegetation may contain southern marsh orchids as well as the occasional early marsh orchid and a variety of sedges and rushes. Here and there some much scarcer species such as round-leaved wintergreen can be found. Bisecting the fens and grazing marshes the cleaner dykes support a varied and interesting flora, with frogbit, arrowhead, greater bladderwort, water soldier, and fringed, yellow and white water-lilies. The traditional grazing marsh ditches have populations of sharp-leaved pondweed and grasswrack pondweed, while the broads themselves are known for their rich stonewort flora.

    When a fen is left unmanaged small shrubs and trees may start to grow, leading to the formation of carr woodland. There are approximately 3000 hectares of woodland and scrub in the Broads, one third of which has developed within the last 50 years. The most valuable areas of carr woodland in the Broads are those which are mature and are a largely undisturbed wilderness; a tangle of woody species, shade-tolerant herbs and lower growing plants. These areas are damp, and shady with an abundance of ferns, mosses and liverworts, while extensive lichen and fungi grow on branches and dead wood. On the edge of the broads, the stately royal fern grows, together with the much scarcer crested buckler fern, a Red Data Book species.