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Tree safety surveys, giant willow aphids, volunteer BBQ’s and more! The new look Shapwick Heath NNR newsletter is full of images and reserve news from the Natural England team, keeping you up to date with the hard work completed and future events.

To download your free PDF copy of Issue 23 click here

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Westhay Moor National Nature Reserve has continued to evolve and grow since Somerset Wildlife Trust first acquired land here in the 1970s. The reserve now has a very impressive improvement, the new North Hide.

For those of you that have visited Westhay Moor over the decades, you may have visited the original North Hide. Sitting out in the reedbeds it had a unique outlook across open water and reedbeds, with the Mendip Hills as a backdrop. After 25 years of service this hide was life-expired and sadly had to be closed. The Trust was keen to replace the hide but the money had to be found. After much hard work funding was pulled together with Viridor Credits and a private individual making significant contributions, a contractor appointed, and a fantastic design developed! The name of the contractor is a bit of a giveaway, “Roundwood Design”. The next challenge was to build the hide – out in a marsh!

The hard work was well worth it; the new, two storey, North Hide is in place and open to the public.  It is accessed via a causeway coming off London Drove. Over the next few months a reed fringe will develop along its edges creating a natural screen and in the summer a stone track will be installed to improve access.

The hide itself is made from locally sourced European Larch that will weather and grey, blending with its surroundings. Inside you will find the use of round timber that gives the structure its integrity and longevity, with opening  panels providing great views across the reserve. As you climb the stairs to the turret you are suddenly above the tops of the reeds and the view is impressive. Already there are regular sightings of otter, marsh harrier and bittern.

Don’t forget to have a peak under the secret floor panel and see if you can spot the fish in the shallows or an otter darting underneath. This hide will not only give visitors a unique glimpse into this diverse reserve but also provide a great vantage point to help survey and monitor the species that thrive here.

Another great addition to the network of hides in Somerset’s Avalon Marshes! A special thank you to those who have made them possible.

Westhay North hide view

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Those of you who have visited The Hawk & Owl Trust reserve on Shapwick Moor recently will have seen a new building looming out of the fog, or more recently the sunshine!   This new building will house the work tools and machinery needed to manage the reserve more effectively.  It will contain a room for volunteers to shelter from the rain and cold on days when working outside proves challenging!  The construction of this workbase represents a major step forward for The Hawk & Owl Trust in the area and it will help to offer further opportunities for volunteer work on the newest nature reserve in the Avalon Marshes.

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The final improvements at RSPB’s Ham Wall funded by the Heritage Lottery through the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership scheme have been completed in the mini marshes area.

Anyone visiting in the last couple of months will have seen the new pond dipping platform and may have been puzzled by the giant wooden head cordoned off with hazard tape. Well, for those of you who haven’t found out already, you should soon discover our willow eel (with anatomically correct fins) which children can play in by climbing through its mouth. The pond dipping platform has greatly improved our schools offer, with those that have been able to use it raving about how great it is. And, last but not least, the wooden sculpture food chain of tadpole, dragonfly nymph, eel and heron has also been installed along one of the trails.  Children and adults alike can now discover what eats what in this bird eat fish eat bug world.

All of these items will be opened to the public once they have been thoroughly inspected by a play inspector (what a job!). Thank you to everyone who has helped with the installation.


Images RSPB / Bob Buck

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Excavations at Beckery near Glastonbury in the Avalon Marshes have produced the earliest known evidence for monasticism in the British Isles. Radiocarbon dating of bodies in the monastic cemetery has shown that the monastery began in the 5th or early 6th centuries AD, before Somerset was conquered by the Saxon kings of Wessex in the 7th century.

Run as a community training dig by the South West Heritage Trust, the excavation was part of the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership scheme made possible by National Lottery players thanks to a £1.8m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). It re-investigated the site of a medieval chapel that was first excavated in the 1880s by John Morland and again in the 1960s by Philip Rahtz.

The 1960s excavation uncovered an extensive cemetery of at least 50 people. Almost all were adult males, leaving little doubt that this was a monastic graveyard. The only exceptions were two juveniles who may have been novices and a woman who may have been a patron or a visiting nun. The new excavation uncovered some of those skeletons to allow scientific dating. Seven individuals were dated, six from graves and one from human bone found in the backfill of the 1960s dig. The earliest monks died in the 5th or early 6th centuries AD, with burials continuing in the 7th to early 9th centuries. These dates provide the earliest archaeological evidence for monasticism in the British Isles. The monastic use of the site may have ended in the later 9th century when Somerset was attacked by Viking armies.

Site director Richard Brunning from the South West Heritage Trust said: “It is great to show that a community excavation can produce results that revolutionise our view of the origins of monasticism in Britain and Ireland. Archaeology is providing evidence that can get us beyond the uncertainty of the historical sources. The ancient origins of the Beckery site may explain why later medieval writers linked it to figures such as King Arthur and Saint Brigit.”

Nerys Watts, Head of HLF South West, said: “This discovery just goes to show the incredible hidden heritage and untold stories still to be discovered within our landscapes. Thanks to National Lottery players, we’re delighted to support the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership which is bringing organisations together and putting communities at the heart of the landscape’s future.”

Beckery is a small island of hard geology in the Avalon Marshes, a short distance from Glastonbury. The place name either means ‘bee-keeper’s island’ in Old English or is Irish for ‘Little Ireland’. Small islands were often chosen as sites for hermitages and monasteries in this early period. That was partly so they could be separated from the ordinary world to aid spiritual seclusion.

Volunteers at work at Beckery Chapel

Volunteers excavating the site with Glastonbury Tor and Wearyall Hill (right) in background
Beckery Chapel dig - Aerial view

Aerial view of the site showing the remains of two phases of stone chapel, the larger, outer walls being from the later chapel. The graves were underneath and outside these chapels. Four of the excavated graves are visible as disturbed patches of soil and are marked 1-4 .
 Beckery Chapel reconstruction

Reconstruction of how the site may have appeared in the late Saxon period when the last burials were being made around AD 880. llustration credit: David Lawrence


 Beckery grave

Excavation of adult male over 45 years old. The individual died between AD 425 and 579.