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The RSPB’s Ham Wall National Nature Reserve is a great place to see wetland wildlife. However, it has lacked a raised and enclosed hide where visitors are protected from the weather but still have wonderful views. This has now all changed with the opening of the new “Avalon Hide”. This large, raised and cleverly designed hide opens up access to the northern area of Ham Wall.

Access to the hide is from the footpath which runs along the north side of the Old Railway Track. A new path takes the visitor through the reedbeds past an attractive copse to the impressive hide. The hide itself is on two levels, a lower open section with viewing screens all around and an enclosed tower section with glazed windows looking north over reed and water with the Mendip Hills as a backdrop; and what a view!

How did this all happen? The key has been funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund through the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership scheme, combined with funding from the RSPB itself. Then add the other vital ingredient; lots of hard work by RSPB staff and volunteers and outside contractors.

To see where the hide is located visit the map of Ham Wall on the Avalon Marshes website.

Views from the Avalon Hide (Photos with thanks to John Crispin):-

Top selling Photography Backdrops

Avalon Hide view photograph John Cirspin

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If you have visited the Avalon Marshes Centre recently you may have noticed ever growing stacks of shaped oak beams. These are the timbers for a second replica building, an Anglo-Saxon long hall. In recent months South West Heritage Trust staff, Hands on Heritage volunteers and the Carpenters Fellowship have been hard at work creating this kit of parts and getting the site ready. This week the really exciting bit is underway, the commencement of erection of the hall.
Unlike the Romans who used stone and mortar for building construction, the Anglo Saxons used timber for most of their buildings. The Anglo Saxons would have felled the trees using iron axes, split the logs with wooden wedges and mallets, and then hewn and worked the wood while it was ‘green’, meaning unseasoned.
The Carpenters Fellowship took away oak logs earlier this year and returned them as beautifully prepared timbers ready to assemble as the framework of the hall. The joints are all individually labelled as they have been cut to fit precisely together; they are then secured using wooden pegs. Meanwhile the volunteers have been receiving practical training on parts of the “kit” from the Fellowship. At the same time South West Heritage Trust staff have been working hard to construct the foundations.

This exciting project has been made possible by funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, through the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership, and a lot of hard graft by South West Heritage Trust staff and volunteers.  When completed the Anglo-Saxon long hall and the Romano-British replica building, which is also under construction, will provide an important educational and visitor resource at the Avalon Marshes Centre.

Regular updates appear on the Avalon Marshes Facebook page. There are more photos and regular updates on the Avalon Archaeology blog.

To find out more about ancient timber work techniques follow this link to Riven Oak’s website.

Artist’s impression of completed building

Anglo-Saxon Hall Artist Impression

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Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve lies at the heart of the Avalon Marshes which is part of Somerset’s Levels and Moors. Internationally important for its wildlife the reserve has extensive areas of reedbed and open water and attracts visitors from all over the world. Height makes a real difference to what you see and “Tower” hides are a great way of achieving this. However, there is a big BUT; budgets are shrinking. Natural England, who look after Shapwick, are having to work with ever tighter budgets.

How you can help

How then does one fund a much needed tower hide? Staff and volunteers sat down together and thought this through; “how about crowd funding?” was one of the suggestions and so was born this project to design, fund and construct a new hide at Shapwick Heath – and this is where you come in!

To find out more, including how you can help, follow this link.

News update 18 November – Natural England’s Simon Clarke was interviewd by Emma Britton on BBC Somerset’s Breakfast Show this morning – follow this link to listen (starts at 1 minute 24 seconds)


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The Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership’s Community Heritage Officer Tanya Camberwell recently attend a fascinating talk at the Edington and District History Group (EDHG). The talk given by group members, titled “A Tale of Two Hoards”, was about the accuracy of historical records relating to Bronze Age finds from the Chilton and Edington areas and the Iron Age Polden Hill hoard.

Patsy Atkins opened the evening with her presentation about Mid Bronze Age finds recovered from Chilton and Edington turbaries during the 1830’s. These items belonged to a 19th Century local historian William Stradling. His writing provides the basis of our modern day knowledge.

The second presentation was given by Agnes Auld. Agnes talked about her research into the Iron Age Polden Hill Hoard. This is held at the British Museum. Once again current records are based on early accounts. These records were not documented with the thoroughness and accuracy that is today’s standard.

Both presentations highlighted the possible inaccuracy of historical documentation and brought into question the locations, dates and totality of the finds. It also highlighted the importance of local historians and their connections with their communities to help untangle misinformation and arrive at a more accurate record.

Do you have any finds or information?

The history group and South West Heritage Trust’s Museum Service are always seeking information and evidence about existing and new archaeological finds. There is also a national initiative called the Portable Antiquities Scheme which encourages the voluntary recording of archaeological finds by members of the public. The scheme identifies and records finds for free. The information is then added to their national database which can be viewed online.

Roman clay coin moulds

Stephen Minnitt, the Trust’s Head of Museums, made an appeal to the EDHG members for information about Roman clay coin moulds found in the peat at Chilton Polden in 1835. Nothing is known about the exact sites where these moulds were found. Also it is likely that other moulds have been discovered after this date. Stephen is requesting that anyone with further information about these, or any other Roman clay coin moulds, be passed on to him at the Taunton County Museum.


If you have any information regarding the Roman clay coin moulds or you know of any others please contact Stephen at

If you have found any archaeological items or require further information about the Portable Antiquities Scheme please visit their website

For more information about the Edington and District History Group please visit their website

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The Avalon Marshes was once a place of swamp, fen and raised bog – not an easy place for ancient man to cross. Neolithic and Bronze age people built a variety of wooden trackways across the marshes. These mainly linked the dry land of the Polden Hills to the south and the dry islands of Burtle, Meare and Westhay to the north. As the environment changed and sea levels varied the trackways became buried in peat to remain largely undiscovered until the large scale peat digging of the 20th century. During this period many trackways were lost; however, a few were protected as Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

Heritage at risk

The reason that these archaeological features survived for so long in the peat is that wet peat is very good at preserving wood. However, if the peat dries out all is lost, a problem which exists in the Avalon Marshes. The seriousness of this problem is highlighted by the fact that most of the Avalon Marshes’ wetland ancient monuments feature in English Heritage’s ‘Heritage at Risk Register’.

Recognising the need for informed action the South West Heritage Trust has received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund through the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership to tackle this problem. Already an exploratory dig has been carried out at Glastonbury Lake Village.  Working with the Internal Drainage Board a new water penning structure has been created on one side of the settlement.  This will allow additional water to be retained in the ditch on that side during the summer, when the water table is at its lowest.

Tinney’s and Godwin’s Track 

These two nationally important prehistoric trackways exist in the Sharpham area of the Avalon Marshes. The South West Heritage Trust have been working with the landowner to locate the late Bronze Age Godwin’s Track and establish its condition.

The photograph shows what was found; a trackway consisting of bundles of willow, alder, and birch, which were kept in place by alder pegs. Part of this trackway was last seen in the 1980s. Exposed by peat cutting it was recorded there by the Somerset Levels Project before its destruction. The recent excavation has been able to show that part of the trackway still survives in the fields to the south of the 1980s find. Here it is running towards the high ground of the Sharpham peninsula. Sadly the trackway is not deeply buried and has suffered some desiccation.