We are delighted to announce that we will be working across the Somerset Levels as one of our three in-depth case study sites. Our focus will be the neighbouring sites of Shapwick Heath and Westhay Moor, which together with a number of surrounding wetlands form the Avalon Marshes, and are managed by Natural England and Somerset Wildlife Trust, respectively.

The sites are examples of arable reversion wetlands, as both are former peat harvesting areas. The main habitats are peatlands, reedbeds, open water, and in the case of Westhay Moor, lowland acid mire (raised bog). The area is rich in wildlife, particularly birds. Of note are the starling murmurations at Shapwick Heath, and the ‘big three’ bird species: Marsh Harrier, Great White Egret and Bittern. Birdwatching is understandably popular at the sites, with both having several hides. The area also have a long and rich history. Of particular note is the Neolithic Sweet Track at Shapwick. Built in 3,806 BC, this was a series of raised walkways used by the local populations to cross the reedbeds.

Our work across the Avalon Marshes is already underway. Since May, we have been sampling invertebrate communities and describing the various habitats found across the area. The socio-cultural and economic work for WetlandLIFE will be focused on communities nearby to Shapwick Heath and Westhay Moor as well as, potentially, visitors from further afield. Understanding the values and issues associated with these wetlands will require an appreciation of their context within both Avalon Marshes and more broadly the Somerset Levels. The environmental history work will take this wider outlook, although with additional attention given to the two specific sites. Our environmental historians on the project have already got underway with exploring the archives at the Somerset Heritage Centre near Taunton.

In August, several members of the WetlandLIFE project team made their way to Somerset to meet members of the management team and explore the sites. We were able to discuss our work in detail with Steve Mewes, Policy and Campaigns Manager for Somerset Wildlife Trust, who says “This is an exciting new project and Somerset Wildlife Trust is looking forward to being a part. Anything that helps people engage with our precious nature in new and innovating ways is a good thing. When we learn more we develop our love nature, all of its benefits and how to protect it”. Following this meeting, we are excited to be able to contribute to their Humans of the Levels initiative, which aims to highlight different people in the Levels and their connection with the landscape and nature.

Mark Blake, Senior Reserves Managemer from Somerset Wildlife Trust, also gave us an extremely knowledgeable guided tour of Westhay Moor, allowing us to have a deeper understanding of the different habitats, the management and the recreational use of the wetland. We left Somerset enthused, and very much looking forward to continuing our work in this region.

Link: Avalon Marshes Centre

Link: Somerset Levels and Moors National Character Area