Catcott is a microcosm of the Avalon Marshes as it was before the major agricultural changes of the 20th century. There are areas of traditional hay meadow and grazing marsh, heath and fen, reed-bed and open water, wet woodland with tree-lined droves. This wonderful variety brings with it a magnificent diversity of wildlife ranging from the impressive marsh harrier through to the tiny rare shining ram’s-horn snail; from stately oaks to the rare marsh pea.
In 1964 the Somerset Trust for Nature Conservation was formed; four years later it acquired the first section of what is now the Catcott Complex. Since then other parcels of land have been purchased and access improved, creating a diverse reserve. In 2014, what is now Somerset Wildlife Trust, celebrated its 50th anniversary and, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Tower Hide was constructed together with new boardwalks.
The map at the bottom of this page shows the individual areas of the reserve.
The “lows”, as its name suggests, is some of the lowest lying land in the Avalon Marshes. Former arable farmland has been turned into an internationally important haven for wintering waterfowl and waders. In front of the Lows Hide wigeon, pintail, shoveler and teal can be seen in abundance on the flooded fields, whilst waders such as lapwing and snipe pick their way around the margins.
Catcott Heath was the first area of the complex to be purchased. It is a mix of species rich fen with such species as bog myrtle and carr (or wet) woodland. The “heath trail plots”, which date from an early research project, are home to great crested, smooth and palmate newts.
Great Fen and Little Fen are restored peat workings with reed beds, open water and islands. Great Fen’s tower hide is a superb platform to see such birds as kingfisher, gadwall and little egret. If you are lucky you may see a hunting marsh harrier and hear the harsh screech of the shy water rail.
Catcott Complex has several wet meadows which are managed in a traditional way. They contain many different flowers, unusual plants and rarities which used to be found in the landscape as it once was. Whilst there is no public access to these areas in the spring you can look over a carpet of colour and variety.
As well as a long history of wildlife conservation Catcott also has tales of earlier history. Not of Neolithic track-ways or Iron Age villages but the industrial revolution. Along Higher Ropes Drove, which runs through the heart of the complex, you may see strips of leather. This is waste from Glastonbury and Street’s old leather industry, which was used to surface the boggy peat droves.