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The starlings on the Avalon Marshes are acting as if spring is here. They are not settled and are changing roosting sites on a regular basis, this often heralds their spring departure. If you are coming to see them try to choose a vantage point with a good all around view. That way you may not get close up but hopefully you will see the large flocks on the move.

To read more about the starlings and see some stunning photos please follow this link.

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Wednesday 28th January was a fierce day with strong cold winds and squally showers; this did not deter the South West Heritage Trust’s Hands on Heritage volunteers and they headed down to Natural England’s Shapwick Heath National Nature reserve to construct a replica section of the Meare Heath trackway.

The original trackway dates from the Bronze Age and linked the Polden Hills and the island of Meare. The line of its route just to the east of the path leading to Noah’s hide on Shapwick Heath. It was first seen by Arthur Bullied in 1890. It was investigated and recorded in the 1940s and 1970s and these records were used to “design” the replica.

The volunteers prepared the timbers during their regular Wednesday sessions. This is the second section of replica trackway they have built, the first being a section of the Sweet Track which was completed late last year.

Both sections of trackway can be seen at Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve. Just walk along the Sweet Track Trail and you will be following the line of the Sweet Track. This will take you along the replica section of the  Meare Heath track. Crossing a meadow you will the come to the replica section of the Sweet Track disappearing into the reeds as it would have dome all those years ago –  sorry you cannot walk on the Sweet Track as you may disappear also!

Diagram of mere heath trackmeare heath track construction

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From early times people built trackways across the soft ground of the Avalon Marshes. These linked the dry “islands” such as Meare with the Polden Hills.  The design of these trackways varied and some were constructed of timber hurdles (a crisscross of woven branches). These were laid end to end on the soft ground.

Move forward to thousands of years and the nature reserves of the Avalon Marshes are a haven for those wanting to enjoy the wildlife and wonderful landscape of the area.  Lots of feet can turn the soft peat paths into a muddy quagmire.

Natural England, working with local company Coates English Willow, have overcome this problem by copying an old technology. The path to the popular Noahs Hide is well used and in the winter can be a bit muddy! Coates Willow have supplied and laid a continuous hurdle trackway to the hide. This has then been covered by wood chippings left over from management work on the reserve. The result, a firm sustainable trackway to the hide.

You can see more photos on the BBC News website

To plan your visit go to the Exlpore section of this website

Neolithic track detail

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Winter light makes for wonderful light, a good time to be out with your camera. Walking to see the starlings late afternoon and this this view caught my eye! Always carry your camera with you when you are exploring the Avalon Marshes, lots to enjoy and remember.

Almost a perfect reflection?

Winter trees on an afternoon walk

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Recently we have been working on a fencing project for Natural England on the Canada Farm side of Shapwick Heath NNR. We put in a 30m stretch of post and wire fencing to help control the stock (mainly cattle) that are being used to graze this section of the site. We put in a series of 8ft posts by hand using a drivel and installed 2 box strainers to support the fence at the turning point and the end. We then strung the three strands of barbed wire and tensioned them using monkey strainers. Two volunteers, John and Julia from the Somerset Wildlife Trust, came out with us on the day – huge thanks to them for being a pleasure to work with and for helping us get the job done on time!

Text by Susie Robson, Avalon Marshes Apprentice.

Photo – Shayl Renyard, Avalon Mashes Apprentice.


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Members of the 815 Squadron’s 234 Lynx Flight spent a week working at Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Catcott Nature Reserves. They worked hard building a raised boardwalk through an area of wet woodland, helping ensure access for the public at any time of the year. Funding was provided by the Heritage Lottery Funded Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership.

Mark Blake, SWT’s Avalon Marshes Reserves manager, said:

“The Catcott complex of nature reserves are a series of semi natural habitats managed by the Trust, with some still under restoration. The reserves sit within a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest and are a mecca for wildlife such as otters, rare insects, amphibians and birds of prey. The Trust’s aim at Catcott is to maintain a favorable environment for the wildlife at the same time as providing access for the public to come and enjoy the reserves.”

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Children and adults visited the Red Brick Building to celebrate the Avalon Marshes through poetry, stories, artwork and music.  The event featured work by local school children and students inspired by the local wetland landscape and was organised by the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership.

As part of the project, school children spend two days exploring the wetland wildlife and heritage and producing stories and poetry with storyteller Jane Flood, and Somerset Film work with primary and secondary pupils to tell stories of the landscape through digital media such as film and animation.  The results were presented at the event with over 50 people taking part.  One teacher whose class was involved said ‘The Avalon Marshes is a beautiful landscape, it is a wonderful place for children to experience the natural world and regardless of how many times we visit children always enjoy their trip and return with different perspectives.’

Also taking part was artist Ruth Worsley working with children to create flags and banners using natural wetland materials, and Ivor Hancock demonstrating willow weaving.  Pupils’ work on display came from many schools including Walton, Mark, St Joseph’s & St Teresa’s in Wells, Meare and Millfield Prep – as well as from children who are home educated.  Two A Level music students from Strode College also performed pieces they wrote in response to a visit to the Avalon Marshes.

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On a lovely autumn day the Environment Agency’s long reach machine is hard at work clearing summer weed from the South Drain. The Autumn colours in the Avalon Marshes are wonderful in the early morning and late afternoon light!

More autumn colour, Dog Rose on Shapwick Heath

Autumn Berries Dog Rose Shapwick Heath

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Avalon Marshes’ Hands on Heritage volunteers have been working hard in experimental archaeology to create a reproduction of the Sweet Track at Shapwick Heath NNR. The replica, which has been built using traditional methods and design, is situated near the site of the real Sweet Track which is preserved by the waterlogged peat of the Avalon Marshes.

Although the modern trackway is open to view, you will have to wait until later in the winter 2014/15 before you can follow in the footsteps of prehistoric man.

Find out more about the Hands on Heritage works by visiting the Avalon Archaeology Blog


The ‘Hands on Heritage’ project is part of the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership scheme; a three-year venture funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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Sights & Sounds of the Marshes is a digital media project delivered by our partners at Somerset Film and funded by the Hertiage Lottery Fund.  Local school and college children are being given the opportunity to explore the landscape through digital stories, film, radio and audio recordings.

Year 2 children at St Joseph’s & St Theresa’s School in Wells took part in the project just before the summer holidays. The pupils researched wetland wildlife and learnt about photography, then visited Shapwick Heath NNR to photograph the wildlife they had researched.  The children’s ‘digital stories’ about the wildlife of the Marshes were compiled with their photos and voiceovers by Will Bix of Somerset Film. Here is a video about them making those stories.

There are still spaces to take part in this project. Teachers from primary or secondary schools should contact Amy Stone at the Avalon Marshes Landcsape Partnership if they are interested.