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A great deal has been going on at the Avalon Marshes Centre this year with the refurbishment of the Craft Centre, expansion of the workshops and start of physical construction of the new offices.  Early 2018 is going to bring more improvements but sadly also the loss of Eco Friendly Bites as caterers on site.

Eco Friendly Bites

Eco Friendly Bites have operated the café at the centre for almost 8 years have decided to cease trading at the centre. Their final opening day will be 17th December.  Natural England would like to thank Amy and all at Eco Friendly Bites for providing a great and valuable facility in recent years. However, Amy is not leaving the Eco business and her on-line Eco Friendly Shop business is continuing – why not take a look at the Eco Friendly website.   We would like to wish Amy all the best in the future.

Refreshments are important!

Natural England realise how important a café is for visitors to the area. To this end natural England will shortly be advertising for someone to set up and run a new café at the centre. With a refurbished Craft Centre, growing visitor numbers, an expanded car park and the future opening of the replica buildings there is great potential. If you are interested please get in touch with Simon Clarke via

Somerset Craft improvements

The Craft Centre building, which dates from the centre’s days as a garden centre, desperately needed significant refurbishment.  Funding from Defra has enabled this to happen with 2017 bringing upgraded services, double glazed windows, and attractive insulated timber cladding to the outside.  The final step in early 2018 is to “over clad” the roof so it is water tight and fully insulated. The downside of this final step is that the Craft Centre must to be closed from 2 January for four weeks to enable this essential work to be carried out. The work is being carried out by Kier Services.

Hidden improvements

Un-seen by visitors the centre has a muddle of ancient underground services. Once again Defra funding is allowing Kier’s on behalf of Natural England, to completely overall and upgrade the services at the centre. The end result will be a water supply which does not freeze during cold weather, Wi-Fi coverage across the centre, a modern drainage system ready for expanded toilets, fibre broadband rather than snail pace copper wire and many other hidden improvements.  To minimise disruption much of this work will be carried out in January when Somerset Crafts and the café are closed.

The ‘good old’ offices demolished!

Natural England, RSPB, Somerset Wildlife Trust and Hawk and Owl trust staff and volunteers operate from a life expired building and portacabin at the Centre – the first thing visitors see as they come through the gates! Freezing cold in the winter, roasting hot in the summer, flaking paint; their life is at an end. Once again thanks to Defra funding, Natural England are constructing a replacement. The Kier’s team are working hard to have this completed by early March allowing the old offices to be demolished thus opening up to public view the fantastic replica buildings being built by South West Heritage Trust’s “Hands on Heritage” team.

Further information

For further information please contact Simon Clarke of Natural England via

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Looking for a Christmas present with a difference, perhaps one which reminds you of the Avalon Marshes? Somerset Crafts, based at the Avalon Marshes’ Craft Centre, is the place to visit!  Now fully decorated for the festive season, is the perfect place to visit to find unique and beautiful hand crafted gifts for  your friends and family. From incredible wildlife photography to handmade jewelry, artwork, handmade beauty products and more the crafts reflect our wonderful area. (note – a percentage of their income goes into the Avalon Marshes and helps conserve our wonderful area)

Why not take a look at their website?

They are open 7 days a week from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm right through to New Year’s day (other than Christmas Day and Boxing Day). Parking at the centre is free and a short walk will take you onto the magical Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve.

Somerset Crafts

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This October at Natural England’s Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve saw the opening of the brand new, Defra funded, Noah’s and 70 acres Hides. The old Noah’s Hide, originally built by Melvyn Yandle over 15 years ago was very popular, however due to its small size and open aspect it could be a bit chilly and on busy days, there could be a queue outside the door.

Worth the wait, the new Noah’s hide is much larger and glazed, with enough space  for 30 people, and built in cavities for nesting bats and birds. With not a queue in sight, the two new hides will continue to provide visitors to Shapwick with an excellent place to view the amazing wildlife here. Sightings from the hide so far include Bitterns, Kingfishers and Marsh Harrier.

Find out more about Shapwick Heath here

New 70 acres hide / The old Noah’s being demolished / The new Noah’s

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South West Heritage Trust’s community excavation at Burtle Priory revealed the grave of an adult male, which had been partially cut through by a refuse pit at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Radiocarbon dating has shown that he died sometime between 1049 and 1274 AD. He could therefore be Brother Walter the hermit, who was granted the land at Burtle in 1191 AD, or even his unnamed predecessor.

As a routine part of the dating process the bones are also examined to determine the marine content in the diet. This showed that Walt’s diet had a 29% (+/-10%) marine content. The Priory is known to have owned fish traps on the nearby River Brue so they may have been catching migratory fish such as salmon or eels. Fish traps of that date are also known from Bridgwater Bay a few miles to the west. Although only about a quarter of Walt’s body survived the damage during the Dissolution it can be shown that he lived to middle age (36-50 years old), was a bit taller than average (c.5 foot 9 inches or 1.76m) didn’t seem to have suffered from hard work (mainly praying perhaps?), didn’t have an overly rich diet (as you’d hope with a hermit) but had suffered from Osgood-Schlatter’s disease as a young boy, which would have given him painful knees in his youth. Perhaps he spent too long kneeling in prayer.

To find out more about South West Heritage Trust’s work within the Avalon Marshes visit the Avalon Archaeology website.

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We are sad to announce that after 10 years as Natural England’s Senior Reserve Manager for Somerset National Nature Reserves, Simon Clarke is moving on. However, he is staying with Natural England and is starting an exciting new role looking at the future for National Nature Reserves in Somerset, Avon and Wiltshire.

During his time based at the Avalon Marshes Centre, Simon has contributed a huge amount to the reserves, through his work creating the Sweet Track Footpath, building our essential volunteer groups and crowd-funding the new Tower Hide. Simon’s hard work has helped to drive the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership, including the mire restorations at the Ashcott Plot and Canada Farm Lows, and securing funding for the much needed office development.

Most of all he has engaged with many different groups who use and love the reserves; listening and always trying to do what is best for the bigger picture of nature reserves across Somerset. He will be sorely missed!


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What an exciting week that was! As you may have heard by now, comedian Bill Bailey sprung a big surprise on the Avalon Marshes Partnership team last Wednesday, when he turned up unannounced to tell us we had won the Environmental category of the National Lottery Awards for 2017.

This means we will be featuring at a red carpet event in London in September to officially receive the trophy and cheque for £5000, and you will get to see the moment when Bill appears from behind a tree at Catcott Great Fen to give members of the team quite a shock!  The programme airs on BBC One on Wed 27th September at 10.45pm.

We are immensely grateful to everyone who voted for the Avalon Marshes project and who helped make it such a success. The project itself involved seven partner organisations, 60 sub-projects, 500 volunteers, 50 schools and colleges, 177 events engaging over 10,000 people in the process.  The projects included the visitor facilities at Ham Wall, the heritage reconstructions at the Avalon Marshes Centre, restoring mires and managing reedbeds on the nature reserves, the Avalon Marshes website, wildlife cameras, interpretation materials, two festivals, three apprenticeships, volunteer training, and increased engagement with local schools and communities.

Thank you for all your support!

Watch this to see Bill Bailey present the award to staff and volunteers at the Avalon Marshes Centre

You can see more photos on the Lottery Good Causes’ Facebook

And another video clip here


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There are celebrations in the Avalon Marshes following the news that cattle egrets have bred successfully in the area for only the second time ever in the UK.

The exotic birds, members of the heron family, have adopted a 70-acre wetland recently purchased by the RSPB adjacent to its flagship Ham Wall nature reserve near Glastonbury. The area is also home to the majority of the UK’s breeding great white egrets, another bird that has colonised the UK in the past five years.

There have been five nests of cattle egrets on site, producing 11 youngsters. Alongside these, seven great white egret nests have produced 17 young.

Steve Hughes, RSPB Ham Wall Site Manger, said; “We are delighted to provide these wonderful birds a new wetland home. A lot of the heron species seem to be moving north in Europe, and it’s vital that they have suitable places breed. Here at Ham Wall the work the RSPB does to provide the right conditions is really paying off. Who knows what will colonise the site next.”

Slightly smaller but much rarer than the little egret, cattle egrets have been visiting the UK in increasing numbers. They often spend time close to livestock and grab insects and worms that their hooves disturb. Cattle egrets have yellow or greyish legs and a yellow beak, compared to the black legs (with yellow feet) and black beak of the similar little egret.

The success of the birds has been followed by a specialist team of RSPB-led volunteers, trained to monitor bird species freshly resident in this country [Note 4].

Chris Baker a local volunteer who co-ordinates the team said; “This is a great opportunity to monitor and track a newly colonising species. The volunteers, all enthusiasts and birdwatchers from Somerset, are specially trained to look for signs of breeding and to monitor the birds without disturbing the still small colony.

“It’s very important as a way of understanding what is going on with this population, and to track its progress. We’re also ready for any new colonisation… this is an exciting time for the UK’s wildlife.”

Photo – John Crispin

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Voting is now closed – thank you for all your support!

We have some exciting news to share with you! Our Avalon Marshes Project has reached the finals of the National Lottery Awards 2017 in the Best Environment Project  category.  We really would like YOUR help and YOUR vote to help us win.

The National Lottery Awards are an annual search to find the UK’s favourite Lottery-funded projects, and aim to celebrate and recognise the difference that those projects have made to people, places and communities across the country.

The Avalon Marshes is competing against six other national projects, so to be in with a chance of winning £5000 to help secure the future of the project, and to feature on the BBC One television show, we need your vote to help us win!  Please support us by casting a vote on our page. Every vote counts, so we really appreciate your support!  If you could share this with your own contacts, family and friends and ask them to vote for us too that would be brilliant!

We need your vote – Please vote here

Why Vote for us?

Naturalist, author and TV producer Stephen Moss tells us why the Avalon Marshes is one of the very best lowland wetlands in Britain – Follow this link to You Tube


What we have achieved so far

As I’m sure you already appreciate, the Avalon Marshes is one of the finest remaining lowland wetlands in Britain and a very special part of the Somerset Levels and Moors landscape.  It incorporates a variety of valuable wildlife habitats, which are of huge international importance for migrating birds that fly in each spring and autumn to join the ducks, waders and other animals that live here all year.  Visitors come from far and wide here to see our “Big Three”: Marsh Harrier, Bittern and the Great White Egret; winter also draws the crowds for the amazing sights and sounds of the Starling murmurations.   Underpinning this is 10,000 years of human history, giving the area its rich archaeological heritage – with Glastonbury Tor serving as the perfect backdrop – including ancient trackways, such as the famous Sweet Track, Iron Age lake villages and its more recent peat history.

Smiles at event / Meare Fish House / Kingfisher

The amount that the Avalon Marshes project has been able to achieve over four years thanks to lottery funding is quite remarkable.  This, teamed with the help of dedicated staff from all the partner organisations involved, amazing volunteers, passionate supporters and committed communities, we’ve been able to massively improve access to the nature reserves, provide new bird hides, create discovery trails, historic reconstructions and visitor facilities, run inspiring events across the project area, and provide education and training resources which have benefited volunteers, schools, colleges, visitors and the local community.

Through the project the wider public have really started to understand the value and significance of this unique place.  This award gives us the opportunity to gain national recognition of the work going on here, and would help us to maintain it as a safe site for wildlife, and an inspiring place for people.  To help secure a healthy future for this special place, WE NEED YOUR VOTE!

Thank you in advance

The Avalon Marshes Team


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“At the end of May we were very sad to lose our two wonderful apprentices Adam Kasik and Seb Mepham. They have been an incredible asset to the team during their time with us, worked very hard on our reserves and most importantly shared our very special brand of Shapwick Heath NNR humour. We hope we taught them a thing or two along the way as well.

The good news is they have both walked into fantastic jobs, Adam as Brue Valley Reserves Assistant with the Somerset Wildlife Trust and Seb as Natural England’s Reserves Warden for Parsonage Down Farm in Wiltshire.

We saw them off in true Shapwick Heath style with a surprise hazard-tape opening of Adam’s Discovery trail viewing area (fondly known as the ‘sinking pit’) and the presentation of their very own commemorative giant pasties to savour and treasure.”

Natural England

The Discovery Trail

Adams’ final project was final completion of the extended Discovery Trail;  the viewing area and associated pond-dipping platform. The trail provides an easy access route and educational resource at the Ashcott Corner end of Shapwick Heath NNR.

Breeding Bird Survey

Seb’s final project was the important breeding bird survey of Shapwick Heath. The last survey was done way back in 2009. The completion of this new survey has given a much richer understanding of bird’s behaviour on the reserve and potential indicators of populations.

Heritage Lottery Funded

Seb’s apprenticeship was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund through the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership Project. During his time as an apprentice he has worked with the RSPB and Somerset Wildlife Trust as well as Natural England. Adam’s post was funded by Natural England as part of their wider policy of providing training for the future.

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A celebration of Somerset’s heritage is taking place at Somerset Rural Life Museum when it re-opens on Saturday 3 June. Local people are invited to join the South West Heritage Trust for opening day at the refurbished Museum, which tells the rich story of Somerset’s rural and social history.

The day will begin with an opening ceremony at 11.00 am. It will mark 100 years since George and Louisa Mapstone took the tenancy of Abbey Farm in 1917. Their granddaughter, Margaret Shreeve, who grew up on the farm, will be part of the opening ceremony. She will be joined by children from Elmhurst Junior School in Street. Based on Margaret’s recollections of farm life the children have created a painting which is on permanent display in the Museum.

Following the ceremony, the Museum will be open for the first visitors to explore the new galleries in the farmhouse and former cowsheds, as well as to see the farmyard, the orchard and the magnificent 14th-century Abbey Barn. There will be traditional village games, music, and delicious local food to enjoy. Families can discover the history of the farm on a fun family trail around the site. Visitors will also be able to enjoy the museum’s first exhibition, ‘FARM’, a collection of paintings and drawings by local artist Kate Lynch who will be there on the day.

The Museum is re-opening following completion of a £2.4 million redevelopment project led by the Trust. Visitors to the Glastonbury museum will be able to explore rural life from the 1800s onwards and discover more about the county’s heritage including its landscape, food and farming, working life and rural crafts.

To mark the opening weekend the Trust is offering special free admission on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 June. The Museum, on Chilkwell Street, will be open from 11.00 am on Saturday and 10.00 am on Sunday and closes at 5.00 pm.

The redevelopment project was chiefly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Viridor Credits Environmental Company, Somerset County Council, the Garfield Weston Foundation and other generous funders. The Trust is also most grateful to Somerset Building Preservation Trust and the Friends of the Somerset Rural Life Museum for their consistent support. Building work was undertaken by Ken Biggs Contractors Ltd.

Inside view of Rural Life Museum