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Essential maintenance works to Ashcott Railway Bridge on the main access path at the RSPB Ham Wall NNR will commence on Monday 4th of January 2016.

The works will take approximately 3 weeks and are being carried out by Dawnus Construction on behalf of the Environment Agency who apologise for any disappointment this may cause.

An alternative footpath will be signed from the main access. This is not suitable for cycles and disabled access.

Please contact RSPB Ham Wall for further information.


To view full size works map click here.

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The Hawk & Owl Trust’s Shapwick Moor is the newest nature reserve in the Avalon Marshes. These former arable fields are being transformed into a haven for wildlife through the hard work of staff and volunteers. The trust recently took delivery of an all-terrain vehicle to help them with their work.

“Towards the end of November we were very excited to take delivery of our very own All Terrain John Deere Gator. Alan and Sylvia Williams, two incredibly generous Hawk and Owl Trust members from Derbyshire donated funds for us to purchase this much needed item after meeting with us at the recent AGM at Sculthorpe in October 2015.

This vehicle will be a major resource for the reserve and will be in use on a daily basis. In the short term, it will be stored in our container – it just fits in after some major reorganisation! Eventually it will ‘live’ in our new building that will replace the container next year. There was an official handing over of the vehicle by Alan and Sylvia to Phil Holms on Thursday 3rd December.”

To find out more about Shapwick Moor go to the Avalon Marshes website

To find out more about the Hawk & Owl Trust go to their website

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A few weeks ago there was a lot in the news about medieval myth busting at Glastonbury Abbey. Unfortunately our press are as adept at creating myths as the abbey was in medieval times! Glastonbury Abbey recently explained the myth and the fact, drawing on the exciting work they have been doing:

“Professor Roberta Gilchrist, a Trustee of Glastonbury Abbey, who led the study of the abbey’s archaeological records, today explains why the legends surrounding this Somerset icon and national treasure live on.

The myths

Glastonbury Abbey has been a site of spiritual pilgrimage for 1000 years and tens of thousands flock there every year from around the world.

Its links to the Arthurian legend are renowned across the globe – the possible resting place of the mythical king himself. It is also purported to be the site of the earliest Church in Britain, believed to have been founded by Joseph of Arimathea, the biblical figure who gave up his tomb so that Christ could be buried.

The myths are well known – but the Abbey’s archaeological story has remained more of a mystery… until now.

As you may have read, the University of Reading and Glastonbury Abbey have just completed a ground-breaking project that has rewritten the Abbey’s history. All known archaeological records from excavations at the Abbey between 1904 and 1979 were reassessed and reinterpreted, with some surprising results.

Some of the Abbey’s best known archaeological ‘facts’ have turned out to be myths – discoveries that were misunderstood or exaggerated by excavators influenced by the fabled Abbey’s legends. Ralegh Radford, who excavated there in the 1950s and ‘60s claimed to have discovered the site of King Arthur’s grave, allegedly located by monks in 1191. However, our analysis disputes Radford’s findings – Arthur’s ‘grave’ was revealed to be a simple pit in the cemetery containing material dating from the 11th to 15th centuries.

Antiquarian excavators weren’t the only ones that went, shall we say, a little over the top. The monks crafted the legends to restore the Abbey to its former glory after a devastating fire in 1184: we found that they laid out the buildings in a very distinctive way to emphasise the ‘earliest church’ story. They also designed the rebuilt church – the Lady Chapel – to look older in order to demonstrate its ancient heritage and pre-eminent place in monastic history. This swelled pilgrim numbers, the Abbey’s reputation – and its coffers.

The amazing facts!

Our most amazing discoveries relied on radiocarbon dating and chemical analysis. We identified three phases of Saxon churches, beginning c. AD 700, and an associated craft-working complex of five glass furnaces radiocarbon dated to c. AD 700. This represents the earliest and most substantial evidence for glass-working in Saxon England.

Previous excavators couldn’t find any evidence that the site was occupied earlier than 700 AD, which is the earliest date of occupation confirmed by historical records. However, fragments of ceramic wine jars imported from the eastern Mediterranean were evidence of a ‘Dark Age’ settlement from c. 500AD. These fragments of Late Roman Amphora were associated with a floor surface, connected with one or more timber halls.

The future

The next stage in our project is going to transform the visitor experience. Working with Glastonbury Abbey and other project partners, these findings will come to life. Digital animations and an interactive map will take visitors on a journey through the Abbey in the Middle Ages, and we will develop a new guidebook and education packs for schools.

So what do these findings mean for Glastonbury Abbey?

The monument remains a place of deep spiritual meaning, a cherished place of tranquillity, steeped in history, heritage, myth and legend. This project has added to its aura and sense of mystery. It is a place well worth visiting and contemplating.

While we have challenged the account of Arthur’s grave being found by Radford, the legends of Arthur and Arimathea live on. Legends so deeply engrained in the landscape and memory of Glastonbury that they have influenced people for 1000 years… and still do to this very day.

One of the project’s most significant findings is evidence that the site of the Abbey was indeed occupied during the time of King Arthur, evidenced by the Late Roman Amphora and the timber halls.

Did King Arthur exist? The jury is still out – we’ll leave that for you to decide.”

To find out more go to the Glastonbury Abbey website

Photo and news article with thanks to Glastonbury Abbey

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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.

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Passionate about nature? Want to kick-start a career in environmental conservation?

Following the success of our 2013 Apprenticeship programme, the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership is offering an apprentice the opportunity to develop their vocational experience with four of the UK’s leading conservation organisations on some of the country’s best wetland nature reserves.

The successful candidate will be offered 18 months’ tailored experience which includes key vocational training in addition to a Level II Work-Based Diploma in Countryside Management with Bridgwater College.

The Avalon Marshes Environmental Conservation Apprentice will have the chance to work not only with Somerset Wildlife Trust, but also RSPB, Natural England and the Hawk and Owl Trust in the beautiful and ancient landscape of the Avalon Marshes.

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The past three months have once again proved to be a busy time for staff and volunteers at Natural England’s Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve (NNR), with plenty of infrastructure repairs being carried out before winter scrub management works begin. To find out more read their Newsletter – link to PDF.

If you would like to receive your own quarterly copy contact Julie Merrett of Natural England