The Companion Guide to East Anglia, The Companion Guides, Seymour J., Collins, London,1972.
The great bustard lived here until 1838 when the last pair were shot, and the stone curlew, a lesser relative, still survives. There are still rare plants. The Spanish catchfly, (Silene otites), the maiden pink (Dianthus deltoides), the field gentian (Gentian campestris) and the dwarf orchis (Orchis ustulata) are still to be found, and a friend of mine tells me that Orchis militaris is common in a certain wood but torture would not drag from him which one.
You will certainly meet red squirrels (grey have not arrived yet: East Anglia is still relatively free from them), you will probably meet a roe deer or two, very likely a herd of red deer, which are common, and you may see some crossbills in the trees - large finches which have their bills crossed to make them useful for extracting the seeds from pine cones.
The most beautiful thing in Breckland, indeed one of the most beautiful in the world, is the golden pheasant (Chrysolophus pictus). I have seen five cocks together, a most rare sight, for although these birds are common, they are very retiring.
Approached from the river Santon Downham has the aspect of a river settlement in some wild and foreign land. There is a big seed extraction plant, where most of the conifer seeds used in England are extracted from their cones by being placed on wires over hot pipes. There is a big timber-treating plant, where poles and posts are pressure-treated with creosote. In the old block of the estate buildings left are the headquarters of the Thetford Chase section of the Forestry Commission.
from: PW Blake, J Ball, AR Cartwright, AFitch, The Norfolk We Live in, George Nobs publishing (first published 1958, revised 1975)
Despite the many changes in land use some parts of Breckland retain its original heathland which is of the greatest interest to the naturalist. Not only to the groupings of the plants show distinctive variation with soil types but the dry, almost continental, conditions encourage plants normally found in places such the heaths of central Europe.
Up to the early nineteenth century the great bustard, as big as a turkey, lived here in flocks. Today the stone curlew is the most characteristic bird of the open heath; among the old established windbreaks crossbills have made their homes, since their peculiar beaks enable them to remove the seeds from pinecones. Within the forests live red squirrel and four kinds of deer - roe, red, fallow and, more recently, muntjac.