Thursday 10 February 2022

Pine lines

If you drive along the A11 from Mildenhall towards Thetford and beyond, into the deeper obscurities of Norfolk, you might notice lines of strangely contorted Scots Pine trees. This is an area of West Suffolk and South Norfolk known as The Brecks. The landscape makes a distinct change from the flat fenlands, on the edge of which we are located.

The Brecks is characterised by sandy heathlands, acid soils and, famously, flint. Brandon is the historical centre of the flint knapping trade. The area is notable for its flint houses, churches and walls and, of course, finds of pre-historic flint weapons and tools. Not far from Brandon is Grimes Grave which is the site of a neolithic flint pit where flints were 'mined'. 

One other distinctive feature of the Brecks is the Scots Pines (Pinus sylvestris). Since the 1920s the Forestry Commission have bought up large tracts of land and established wide-ranging tree plantations which they manage, including Thetford Forest. Scots Pines were extensively planted. But their origin in the area goes much further back.  

Some have argued that the Scot Pine in this area, being a very long lived and ancient species in paleo botanical terms, is possibly a remnant of post Ice Age spread of the species as its distribution headed north with the retreating ice. The Scottish highlands is where its natural home is now in Britain.

For the most part, however, the Scots Pines we see here have been planted initially as field hedges as an alternative to hawthorn. Where they remain they have been left untrimmed and allowed to grow into mature trees. As a result, a typical feature of The Brecks is pine lines. They can be seen dividing agricultural fields or lining  field edges like the ones on the A11. In many places the original pine line has been allowed to develop into a larger stand of pines to provide cover for gamebirds. In Mildenhall the pine lines have been left undisturbed when overspill housing was built in the 1960s and 70s so that they line the residential roads.

On our holding we have some Scots Pines on one of our boundaries, as have the boundaries of some of the other land and properties further along the road. They are very old trees and in high winds branches and debris often break off. 

The neighbouring farmer has some pine lines to be seen dividing some of his fields. I guess they were once hedges many years ago. They have a stark look about them in an otherwise uninterrupted view across flat fields.

A pine line in our neighbouring farmer's field.

A self-seeded Scots Pine growing in a 
farm ditch bank.

A photo I have posted before. A pine line lining the field opposite our house, at dusk.


  1. As somebody who now lives in "the deeper obscurities of Norfolk" I'm used to driving up the A11 past the pines. They are fantastic trees. I especially love seeing them silhouetted against the evening sky.

    1. I should think you are very familiar with the particular trees I am referring to in your numerous trips to and from Norfolk.