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On the morning of Wednesday 29th March (yes, the  same day the Brexit was triggered!), a select group of people gathered at Ham Wall nature reserve to celebrate the completion of the hugely successful Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership Scheme – a £2 million programme funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.   These included Stephen Boyce, Chair of the HLF South West Committee, and Simon Nash, Chief Executive of the Somerset Wildlife Trust, as well as representatives from RSPB and other partners.

Since the HLF Award back in April 2012, some 60 projects have been completed by the partners and a dedicated team of six staff.  The projects have ranged from habitat and archaeological restoration, to education, improved interpretation, access and facilities.  The partners include the Somerset Wildlife Trust, the Hawk and Owl Trust, Natural England, the South West Heritage Trust, and the RSPB, with support from the Environment Agency and Historic England.   It was through this funding that many of the new facilities at Ham Wall and across the other reserves were developed. The partners have also benefitted from three trainee apprenticeships under the scheme. There has also been increased promotion and information about the area through the Avalon Marshes website, leaflets and interpretation panels.

The HLF programme has really accelerated the fantastic work being undertaken by all the partners in this unique area, and has really helped to put the Avalon Marshes on the map as one of the top wildlife and historic landscape destinations in the country!   And the work does not stop there!  There is a now strong legacy in terms of ongoing collaborative partnership working, with a view to continuing to develop biodiversity planning, volunteering, education and visitor management in the area.

Jane Brookhouse
Area Reserves Manager, RSPB, Somerset ad Gloucestershire

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March saw the first Avalon Marshes wide booming bittern survey of this year. Over 70 staff and volunteers came together from across the Avalon Marshes Partnership conservation organisations and took part in this ‘very’ early morning (5-6am!) survey.   The technique is to position as many people as possible around the landscape to listen for the distinctive sound of the male bitterns which are ‘booming’ and then plot their location. By doing this the number of territorial males can be calculated.

This year the count on Natural England’s Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve was co-ordinated by Heritage Lottery Funded Landscape Partnership apprentice Seb Mepham.

In total sixteen confirmed “boomers” we recorded on Shapwick with another potential two birds on site. Twenty-one birds were recorded on Ham Wall, five on Westhay Moor, one on Catcott Lows, one on Westhay Heath (with another two adjacent on Godwin’s land) and one on Greylake (just over the Polden Hills).

That makes a grand total for Somerset’s levels and moors of 46 male birds (plus two unconfirmed), yet another record! To put this into context, there were 36 boomers recorded on the March survey last year and bitterns did not start breeding in the Avalon Marshes until the 21st century

The second 2017 survey is in April.

Bittern photo with thanks to Robert Balch 

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The refurbished and improved Meare Heath and Decoy hides on Natural England’s Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve have now re-opened, and what a great change. The hides used to be dark and to some could feel rather un-welcoming when you first walked in. Solid shutters may have kept the wind and rain out but they also kept the light out. The upgraded hides now have glazed shutters letting lots of light in, making the hides feel warmer and give great views all round no matter how wet the weather!  In addition to the visible new glazed shutters and timber treatment less obvious work has been carried out such as replacing the approach ramps which had reached the end of their life.

These works have been funded by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) with Kier Services as managing contractors. Further work is already underway and in the pipeline. The contractors are currently working on the Tower Hide at Bridgewater Bay NNR and will return to Shapwick Heath in August to build the new, enlarged, Noah’s hide and a new “70 Acres” hide.

If you have any queries regarding this work please do not hesitate in contacting Simon Clarke Senior Reserves Manager at Natural England on 01458 860120 or e-mail

The view from Decoy hide – image AMLP staff

View from Decoy hide


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Somerset Rural Life Museum will reopen on Saturday 3 June following completion of a £2.4 million redevelopment project led by the South West Heritage Trust and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Museum will tell the rich story of Somerset’s rural and social history and provide a family-friendly destination which has learning, access and discovery at its heart.

You can read more about the museum and the re-development at the website Somerset Rural Life Museum

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Monitoring equipment has been installed on Natural England’s Shapwick Heath NNR to keep a check on the condition of the Neolithic Sweet Track. Over recent months the section of the Sweet Track leading to Shapwick Burtle has been excavated to allow a plastic membrane to be laid over the track to help preserve moisture levels around the fragile wooden remains of this Scheduled Ancient Monument. The project is run by the South West Heritage Trust in partnership with Historic England, York Archaeological Trust and the National Museum of Denmark. Funding has been provided by the Heritage Lottery Funded Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership scheme.

Read more about the Sweet Track.

If you are wondering what Shapwick Burtle is you will notice a large and distinct hump in the road between Shapwick Moor and the Avalon Marshes Centre. This is a “burtle”, a sand bar left during the inter-glacial period when sea levels were much higher than today (we would add that this was a long time ago!).