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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

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It’s that time again – the new quarterly newsletter from the Natural England Somerset team is out now.

Enjoy some light reading with your morning cup of tea (or coffee)…

Hear what the Natural England team have been up to on the reserve so far this year, wonder at the wildlife highlights, read this month’s article on the peregrine falcon and peruse the events section.

To download your free PDF copy of issue 24 click here.

If you would like to be added to the mailing list to receive future copies straight to your email then please email Julie Merrett on

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The South West Heritage Trust continues work on the two replica buildings at the Avalon Marshes Centre through the sterling efforts of the ‘Hand on Heritage’ volunteer group. Coats of limewash have been applied to two sides of the Roman dining-room and to the gable ends of the Saxon longhall. Wattle and daubing is gradually filling in the gaps in the walls of the longhall and carvings have been added over the porches. A splendid new dragon atop the gable end will hopefully ward off evil spirits. The buildings will be open for guided tours on the Wild Day Out (23rd April) and a Viking re-enactment group will be in residence on another public open day on the 4th June. The buildings will also be open to the public on the Avalon Marshes Archaeology Day on the 23rd July.

You can read more about the work of Hands on Heritage volunteers at their blog “Avalon Marshes Hands on Heritage”.

Anglo-Saxon Hall carved dragon's head

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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!).

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During the building works at the Avalon Marshes Centre, RSPB Ham Wall’s compost sales are temporarily suspended for safety reasons.  Please bear with us while we work on a safe, alternative way of selling our peat-free compost to the public.

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Natural England logoNatural England are pleased to announce that funding has now been secured for the development of new facilities at the Avalon Marshes Centre that will much improve the experience of visitors to the Avalon Marshes Landscape and  its  many nature reserves.  Works will include upgrading of the Craft Centre, an improved sewerage system and a new joint office for the conservation organisations that manage the nationally important nature reserves.  This work will also complement the historical reconstructions that are under construction by South West Heritage Trust and act as a catalyst to further develop the education and engagement activities on site.  Though there will be disruption we plan to keep the site as operational as possible during this busy period and both Somerset Crafts and Eco friendly bites will be open for business as usual.

Natural England’s Management Contractors have been appointed and are on site. The works taking place mean there will be changes to the layout of the site and Natural England and its partners will be using email, Facebook and Twitter to keep people informed. The first changes are:

The next stages, later in February and early March, are:

Further works will be taking place over the year and we will provide updates on these at a later date.

If you have any queries regarding this work please do not hesitate in contacting Natural England on 01458 860120 or e-mail