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Shapwick Tower Hide awaiting its superstructure

Hides, especially tower hides, provide a great location to see wildlife with minimal disturbance, shelter from the elements and fantastic vistas over the magical Avalon Marshes landscape. However, two key challenges face the teams from the Hawk & Owl Trust, Natural England, RSPB and Somerset Wildlife Trust – how to fund and build them.

On the funding side we are fortunate that Heritage Lottery has funded four new hides around the reserves through the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership scheme. In addition, on Shapwick Heath Natural England has funded the “Shapwick Tower Hide” through a highly successful “crowd funding” appeal and on Westhay Moor Somerset Wildlife Trust are building a new North Hide with funding from Viridor Credits through the Landfill Communities Fund.

The next challenge is their detailed design and construction. The soft peat of the Avalon Marshes, which helps give it its distinctive character, is underlain by many metres of soft clay. Neither is the best foundation material!

Natural England’s Shapwick Tower Hide, currently under construction, illustrates how these challenging conditions can be overcome in a cost-effective way. Take 8 telegraph poles donated by Western Power; bring in a local excavator to “push” the piles into soft ground (and when we say push we really do mean push!); employ a local contractor to build a simple welded steel framework to sit on the piles; then top this off with a timber, architect-designed, room with a view. And wow what a view it is going to be!

Views from the hide:

South view tower view bittern

South view from lower deck – Booming Bittern as this shot was taken

North view lower deck great white egrets

North view from lower deck – Two Great White Egrets and a lot else!


Unloading – they are long!                                   The driven piles – a lot in the ground

Tower Hide construction Tower Hide construction

Piles cut to length and steelwork in place        The lower deck

Piles and steelwork tower hide lower deck tower hide

Progress photos with thanks to Alan Ashman

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As you will know, Easter weekend this year was a real mixed bag of weather. Inevitably this was reflected in the visitor numbers to the Avalon Marshes reserves, picked up by the new visitor counters. These have been installed as part of the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership Scheme.

Good Friday was a glorious day and visitors to Ham Wall, Shapwick Heath and Westhay Moor approached 1,500. Numbers dropped dramatically on Saturday, when the weather was pretty atrocious, to just over 100. However, they picked up again on Sunday and Monday, when the weather was reasonable, to 600-700 per day.

So how does this compare with previous years? We only have figures for Shapwick Heath, where counters have been installed for some time and it appears that this year’s figure of 1,380 is about average, similar to 2012 and 2013, but up on 2010 and down on 2011, 2014 and 2015. The figure for 2011, 2,660, is startling, until you realise that this was an exceptional year. 2011’s “barbecue” Easter was in late April and one of the hottest on record with wall-to-wall sunshine and temperatures hitting 25C across the south of England. Easter 2014, again later in April, was also sunny if not quite as hot with visitor numbers approaching 2,550 over the weekend.

Visitor numbers to the Avalon Marshes reserves have been steadily increasing over the years but clearly we can’t escape the vagaries of the weather. So let’s hope for a fine 2016 so more people can enjoy the area’s rich heritage and wildlife, set within its unique landscape.


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Progress on the reproduction buildings at the Avalon Marshes centre continues at a steady pace. Our committed Hands on Heritage volunteers and staff from the South West Heritage Trust have been hard at work both on and behind the scenes. Walls continue to be daubed for the Anglo Saxon building and roof tiles laid on the Roman reconstruction.

There has also been some ‘traditional re-enactment’ for the raised wooden hearth that has been installed in the Longhall. Saxon legend has it that before the final layer was laid inside the frame a special ‘hearth dance’ had to be performed by the best baker of the tribe. Volunteer Steve was the best candidate and you can view his dancing skills on the Avalon Archaeology blog.

Some of our Hands on Heritage volunteers enjoy their work here so much they actually do homework. These dedicated people brought in the fruits of their labour and the results are outstanding!

Terry has created a beautiful leaded half roundel window based on colours and designs from Anglo Saxon England.

Saxon stained glass window Saxon stained glass window

And Mary has produced a wonderfully carved window shutter latch of an Anglo Saxon dog design.

Saxon carved door handle

Last but not least Mike has sculpted a fantastic carving depicting the launch of the prehistoric canoe on Shapwick Heath NNR in 2015. Read about the canoe launch here.

Terry wood carving artists headhunters of the marshes 400.[1]

All of these items are to be incorporated into the Saxon Longhall and will be visible to the public once the buildings are completed and officially opened.


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The Somerset and Dorset Railway was often referred to as the Slow and Dirty or more fondly the Serene and Delightful. It was closed fifty years ago, on 7 March 1966, as a result of the infamous Beeching cuts. The same year saw the formation of the Somerset & Dorset Railway Circle, preserving the memory and heritage of the line, which subsequently became the present Somerset & Dorset Railway Trust.

The Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust (SDRT) are marking the 50th anniversary of the closure with a number of events including a travelling exhibition, walks and talks. A number of these events are taking place within the Avalon Marshes and we will be hosting the exhibition for one day during the Avalon Marshes Open day on Sunday 5thJune.

The day before this on Saturday 4th June there will be a special opportunity to see part of the evocative film of Sir John Betjeman traveling on the line through the Avalon Marshes. This is being shown as part of the celebration “The Avalon Marshes – Landscape, Heritage & Wildlife”. 

For a full programme of the SDRT anniversary events please click here

Somerset and Dorest Railway Through Time Book Steph Gillett Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway Logo Crest

SDRT museum curator, Steph Gillett, has written a book ‘The Somerset and Dorset Railway Through Time’ covering the history of this much loved railway and it features many photographs which have not been previously published. The book was launched at the Wells and Mendip museum in February this year and Steph Gillett will be at the Avalon Marshes Centre signing copies alongside the exhibition on 5th June.

To find out more about the SDRT and their museum at Washford, Somerset, please visit their website.

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Fantastic news for young people aged 8 -16 in Somerset; a new Young Archaeologists Club (YAC) has now been set up offering great opportunities to learn more about and get involved in archaeology. There will be a promotional launch with Phil Harding and free activities at the Museum of Somerset on Saturday 9th of April.

It has been set up in memory of Professor Mick Aston, from the TV programme “Time Team”, who was very keen to start a YAC for Somerset. Mick was well known in the Avalon Marshes; he helped launch the landscape partnership scheme back in 2012 and was a key figure behind the Shapwick Project in the 1990s.

Mick Aston’s Young Archaeologists (Somerset) or “MAYA” is open to everyone aged 8–16. It will get involved in all sorts of activities, including visiting and investigating archaeological sites and historic places, trying out traditional crafts, taking part in excavations, and lots more.

There will be a special MAYA Experimental Archaeology Activity Day here at the Avalon Marshes Centre on 11th June – click here for full event details

MAYA will meet in the morning every second Saturday of the month, usually at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton. Sometimes they will run whole-day events in all sorts of different locations.

If you’d like to get involved with MAYA, find out about their events or contact them then please visit their website:

You can also get social with MAYA:

Join them On Twitter – @yacsomerset

And on Facebook – Mick Astons Young Archaeologists

MAYAN Young Archaeologists Club