Story of a broad

Barton Broad

Barton Broad has played a significant part in the history of the Broads.

It was the ridges of peat left across the south end of the broad that gave the first clues to the fact that the broads were actually dug by hand. But did you know it also has links to Nelson? Here's the story of this important location.

Barton Broad timeline

Type of sedimentDate Significant events

13th or 14th century

Barton Broad was formed by people digging out peat for fuel
Light coloured mud, with snail shells and bits of stonewort


River Ant diverted for navigation purposes to flow through Barton Broad
  1760s and 1770s Admiral Horatio Nelson spent time here in his youth. His sister rented Barton Broad, and Horatio visited her when on leave from the navy. (Tradition has it that he once lost a chain and locket in these waters.)
  1834 It was from his observations at Barton that Samuel Woodward first suggested the Broads were not natural but dug by human hand (on looking carefully at the stripes of high ground crossing the southern end of the broad). This idea was not resurrected until the 1940s
  1840 The broad covered 284 acres of open water
  1880s Start of higher nutrient input into the Broads
  1885 34 hectares of reed swamp around the broad
Increased sewage effluent, plant community dominated by taller, more productive species, darker sediment 1924 First sewage treatment works at North Walsham, in a period of growing human population in the local villages
  1950s Beginning of seriously high levels of nutrients in the broads
Paler brownish sediment from algae and sediments from elsewhere washed around because there were no plants to keep them stable 1960s

Rapid build-up of mud - made up of erosion from river-banks and lots of dead algal cells from the water.

Until 1963 there were otters on Pleasure Hill Island
Large numbers of coypu did tremendous damage in the south end of the broad, burrowing through and destroying the historic peat ridges left by the early peat diggers and destroying the fine belts of reed swamp, great beds of true bulrush and the lesser reedmace. These destructive animals had been brought to England originally to farm for their fur, but many escaped and thrived in the wild. They did serious damage to native wildlife and habitats and even undermined river-banks. They were finally eradicated in 1987 after a long, intense and very expensive extermination programme.

  1970s The water was becoming thick with algae

Tertiary chemical dosing at Stalham sewage treatment works

  1980 Sewage from North Walsham diverted away from Barton Broad
  1982 Phosphate stripping equipment installed at Stalham sewage treatment works
  1985 One hectare of reed swamp left
  1988 Broads given National Park status and Broads Authority formed a year later to look after it
  November 1995 Mud pumping started
  1996/7 DynaSand filters installed at Stalham sewage treatment works
  2000 Clearest clear water period for 25 years
  August 2000 Mud pumping of main broad finished
  February 2001 Fish-proof curtains installed creating approximately 4 ha of clear water
  June 2002 14,000 cobweb brushes (artificial plants) installed
  February 2003 Two additional fish-proof curtains installed and one of the original curtains moved creating over 4 ha of clear water
  July 2003 Beds of aquatic plants growing well in one of the enclosures
  August 2003 Floating reed island installed
  August 2005 Plants growing in margins of broad outside the clear water areas for the first time in more than 30 years