The Broadland Rivers Catchment is relatively large at around 3,200km² and is mostly rural – over 80% is arable farmland. It includes around two thirds of Norfolk and part of north Suffolk. The largest settlements include the city of Norwich and the seaside towns of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, where major regeneration is planned.
Facts and figures
Rivers and broads
The four main rivers (and sub-catchments) are the Bure, Waveney, Wensum, and Yare. Water that falls in the catchment percolates into groundwater, runs, drains or is pumped into the rivers. This water ultimately flows through, or under, the Broads area and out to sea at Great Yarmouth or Lowestoft. As the rivers reach the Broads Executive Area – where the land is mostly at or below sea level – they become wide, slow flowing and tidal.
The Broads is a member of the national park family and is Britain’s largest designated wetland. The area includes over 60 shallow lakes or ‘broads’ created by medieval peat diggings and flooded by rising sea levels. It is one of Europe’s most popular inland waterways.
Wildlife and landscape designations
The catchment contains many sites of international nature conservation importance with a range of habitats, supporting a diversity of species, including some that are exceptionally rare. The Waveney & Little Ouse Valley Fens, the Norfolk Valley Fens, the River Wensum, The Broads and Winterton-Horsey Dunes are all Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) designated for the presence of species and habitats of European significance. The Broadland and Breydon Water Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Ramsar sites are designated for internationally important birdlife. There are over 90 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in the catchment and many County Wildlife Sites and Local Nature Reserves. Small areas are part of the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Water supply and treatment
The groundwater, rivers and broads of the catchment provide sources of public drinking water and support water dependent industries, especially around Norwich. Private drinking water and agricultural supplies are located throughout the catchment. Most public sewage treatment works (‘water recycling centres’) return waste water to rivers, but some discharge to the sea. There are several large industrial waste water systems and many private sewage treatment works, including septic tanks, which discharge to rivers or to ground.
Population and economy
The population of the catchment is around 850,000 permanent residents. Tourism, agriculture, and food and drink processing are essential to the economy. In 2011 there were 7.4 million visitors to the Broads alone, resulting in an estimated visitor spend of £469 million and supporting over 6000 jobs. About 8,500 jobs in the catchment rely on farming. Energy and life sciences are also important components of the local economy.
Boating, walking, angling and birdwatching are popular activities throughout the catchment and on the coast. There is excellent inland navigation mainly in the Broads. Angling for coarse fish is particularly popular on tidal rivers, with renowned barbel fishing on the River Wensum and brown trout fishing on the upper Bure and Wensum. Bathing beaches on the Norfolk and Suffolk coast currently meet European guideline standards.
Most land within the catchment (around 80%) is used for arable agriculture, with grazing meadows and semi-natural fens in river valleys and around the broads. There are small, scattered areas of woodland, scrub and heath. Much of the land is high grade and crop yields are high in comparison with the national average. Agriculture and land management make a major contribution to landscape and tourism within the catchment. There is more intensive livestock production to the south and west.
Land drainage and flood risk management
Land drainage in the Broads, Norfolk Rivers, and Lower Yare, Waveney and Lothingland areas improves agricultural production over 28,000 hectares of land. Thirty-six pumps and 746km of watercourse are maintained in the Broads area and river valleys. Flood risk management, including construction and maintenance of embankments, walls and flow regulating structures, reduces flood risk to agricultural land, infrastructure and properties, and over 30,000 people.
Elevation and slope
The catchment is low-lying with highest elevations to the north and west and a maximum elevation of around 100m. It is usually gently sloping with steeper slopes generally on the sides of the river valleys to the south and west. Rainfall is relatively low with higher average levels to the west. Heavy rainfall can occur at all times of the year.
Geology and soils
The underlying geology is chalk to the west and crag (gravel, sand and silt mix) to the east. This is largely covered by superficial glacial deposits of sand, silt and clay. Chalk is close to the surface or even exposed in some locations mainly in the north-west. In general terms, peat soils occur around the broads and in the river valleys; finer, sandier soils occur to the north and east; and heavier silt and clay soils are found to the south and west. In reality there is considerable variability in soil type even within individual fields.