The Norfolk Broads is the United Kingdom's largest protected wetlands, 117 square miles of lakes, fens, woodlands and grazing marshes between the medieval city of Norwich and the wide East Anglian Beaches of the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts. Popular for boating and sailing vacations as well as green holidays, it has 125 miles of lock-free, navigable waterways.
The Broads are also a major commercial source of reeds and sedge for roofing thatch. The area's mix of wildlife management, livestock crazing and reed growing and harvesting contributes to an ancient and sustainable way of life.
Remarkably, this waterworld, crisscrossed by rivers and channels and dotted with lakes (the "broads") was man made in the early Middle Ages. By the 12th century, records show that the local population had cleared this area of most of its woodland for building and fuel. Peat cutting started about then. It was abandoned by the 14th century because the peat bogs became flooded - much as modern quarries eventually flood. The way the Norfolk Broads came to be was only discovered in the 1950s when scientists realized the banks of the broads were vertical rather than the gradual slopes of natural lakes.
Working windmills, dotted around the Broads, drain the dry land for animal grazing and human occupation, as they have done for hundreds of years. Some of the windmills are owned by the National Trust and other charities and can be visited.