MP Matt Hancock extols the virtues of Suffolk's wildlife and countryside
It is sometimes easy to forget how lucky those of us who live in Suffolk are to call such a beautiful part of the country home.
From Thetford Forest, the largest lowland pine forest in Britain, down to Flatford and Constable County, a place so beautiful it acted as the muse and inspiration to arguably Britain’s greatest landscape painter John Constable, Suffolk’s biodiversity stuns. Especially in the summer months.
As recently as November, the Suffolk coast and heaths were ranked one of the top 10 areas of natural beauty in the UK, solidifying our enviable position as residents to a truly unique and wonderful part of the world. No doubt justifying the assumed jealousy of our county neighbours.
One of the things I look forward to most, when I’m in the noise and fury of Westminster, is to wind down the windows as I turn off the A11 and climb from the flatlands of Cambridgeshire and breath in the clean fresh air as I drive home through the tranquillity of the fields of Suffolk. But it is not just me and you who enjoy the scenic splendours of Suffolk, nor are we the only ones to call this oddly flat part of the country home. Over 36 per cent of Suffolk is nationally or locally protected for its wildlife or landscape value. Suffolk has over 900 wildlife sites across the county and is home to a variety of creatures, from hazel dormice and water voles to skylarks, yellow-hammers and nightingales, stag beetles and great crested newts. From meadows and grasslands, woodlands and hedges, ponds and rivers; the countryside which we have inherited is home to a plethora of species and we are duty-bound to nurture it.
One of the many reasons these habitats and species have been so well preserved and given the chance to thrive in Suffolk is due to the fantastic work of our local councils and institutions such as the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, which monitor and protect our natural heritage.
But wildlife and scenic beauty are not all this fertile land has to offer. There is a reason why over a thousand-years-ago men and women came out of the north in longboats not just to raid and conquer but farm and settle. The promise of fortune and adventure may have been one such reason, but the main reason historians can suggest for Vikings and their processors the Anglo-Saxon migration was the fertility of the counties along our east coast, of which Suffolk was one of if not the richest in this sense. Humans have farmed these lands for over 6,000 years, and if the Domesday Book statistics are to be believed, Norfolk and Suffolk had the highest population density in the whole country at one point, due to its extensively farmed fertile land and woodland clearings. Suffolk is still 95 per cent farmland according to the BBC, second only to the Scilly Isles (96 per cent).
We have made mistakes along the way and many landscape historians condemn the post-war hedgerow losses and associated habitat destruction in Suffolk. Certainly, there are many examples across the county where this episode was regrettable, destroying ancient boundaries, old lanes, and moated sites. But a close examination shows that much of their value has survived, and we should now be making every effort to recognise, cherish and sustain these important features and habitats. All the county’s farmers have a huge role to play in helping to nurture, protect and enhance the indigenous species and habitats, with heaths and hedges being equally important, in different ways. The regions of Suffolk still retain a tangible local distinctiveness, something that all farmers and all the county’s residents should be proud of.
Flat? – well, I prefer to think undulating. Diverse and fascinating? – undoubtedly.
-- Matt Hancock is MP for West Suffolk