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We are delighted to report that Natural England has launched its new Field Studies Centre guide to Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve (NNR) at the Avalon Marshes Open Day on Sunday 5th June.

Image of the front side of the guide.

Designed by the Somerset NNR team the new guide is dedicated to the diverse flora, fauna and history of the Shapwick Heath NNNR. Its features include a reserve map, historical timeline, habitats and seasonal highlights. The full colour guide is packed with images for species identification as well as information about the formation of the landscape and the impact of man on the Avalon Marshes.

Image of the back of the guide.

Simon Clarke, Senior Reserve Manager for Natural England Somerset, told us:

‘This project has been a long time in the pipeline and we are really pleased with the finished product which showcases some of the most iconic species of our reserve’.


The guides are now on sale and can be purchased for £3.80 each directly from the Natural England Shapwick Heath Office by contacting:

Julie Merrett: or call 01458 860120 during office hours.


They are also on sale at the Eco Friendly Bites Café on site at the Avalon Marshes Centre.

The Natural England logo alongside the Feild Studies Council logo

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The Avalon Marshes was recently described by Stephen Moss on Radio 4’s Today programme as one of the best new places to see wildlife in the whole of the country. Well, the weekend of 4 / 5 June proved a brilliant opportunity to celebrate what makes the area so special. Not just in terms of its wildlife, but also its landscape, heritage and the people who live, work and visit here. We may not have the official status and funding of the country’s designated areas but we have benefitted over the last 4 years from Heritage Lottery funding through the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership scheme.

On Saturday 4 June more than 180 people enjoyed a day of talks, presentations and films at Strode Theatre in Street telling the story of the Avalon Marshes. Chaired by Stephen Moss it included talks on water level management by Phil Brewin, pre-historic archaeology by Richard Brunning, the monastic landscape by John Allan, the history of the peat industry by Mike Woodhead, the creation of the nature reserves by Simon Clarke, and people and wildlife by Chris Sperring. It also included part of John Betjeman’s nostalgic film from the 1960s on his trip through the area along the former Somerset and Dorset railway.

On Sunday 5 June the sun shone setting the scene for the Avalon Marshes open day organised by Natural England. After a day inside it was a chance for people to get out to enjoy the area and see what has been achieved with Heritage Lottery funding. More than 300 people, including many families, enjoyed activities at the Avalon Marshes Centre with tractor rides on to Shapwick Heath, bird box making, pond dipping and, perhaps best of all, tours of the newly constructed Romano-British and Anglo-Saxon buildings, which were brought vividly to life. There were also guided walks at Catcott and Westhay, and activities at Ham Wall.

Feedback from both days was extremely positive; from people new to the Avalon Marshes and those who knew it well but who had discovered something new. The Avalon Marshes is a unique landscape with huge potential for the future. As one person commented from the Saturday event it is developing into a very special place for people, wildlife and heritage, but one that is quite distinct from areas like “The Norfolk Broads”.

Combined image: Image 1 shows people at the 'Hills to the Levels' project stand and participating in the Avalon Marshes Open day 2016 . Image 2 shows an Anglo Saxon king re-enactor sat with a raven in the reproduction Anglo Saxon Long Hall at the Avalon Marshes Open Day.


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Much of the focus in the Avalon Marshes has been on the nature reserves which lie at its heart.  However, most of the area is characterised by wet grassland which has been farmed since the area was drained.  The loss of this wet grassland to other forms of agriculture would fundamentally change the area’s unique landscape and wildlife conservation value. So, working with FWAG (the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group), two training courses were held in May to help farmers and landowners develop the potential of their wet grassland.

The first course focussed on developing the potential of the more commercial areas of grassland outside the designated areas.  Although less important for conservation these areas are vital to the viability of farming.  Grassland consultant Charlie Morgan shared his expertise and experience, particularly focussing on soil management and how to maximise productivity at the same time as minimising inputs.

The second course focussed on the conservation value of wet grassland, and in particular fields lying within the raised water level areas.  Cath Mowat from Natural England shared her expertise on how to conserve the area’s wet meadows; encouraging wild flowers, improving conditions for breeding waders and dealing with problem weeds.

Both courses included trips out to look at examples of current practice, including fields near Mark and on Tealham and Tadham Moor.  The project has been delivered through the Heritage Lottery funded Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership scheme and will conclude with visits to individual farmers, advising them on the particular challenges on their landholdings.