The Huntspill River was built during World War 2 to supply huge quantities of water to a vital munitions factory but now serves as an important land drainage feature. Unlike the other nature reserves of the peat moors it is a reed-lined “canal” cutting across the coastal levels. It starts at Gold Corner with its vital pumps and ends at the mud of the Parrett Estuary with its wealth of bird life.
World War 2 brought the need for a huge expansion in the manufacture of explosives. In 1939 a site for a major new plant to produce RDX was identified at Puriton not far from Bridgwater which required 20.5 million litres (4.5 million gallons) of water a day! The newly appointed engineer to the Somerset Drainage Board was sworn to secrecy and asked to come up with a plan. He quickly realised that supplying water to the factory presented a unique opportunity to improve the drainage and flood defence of the area; the idea for the Huntspill “River” was born.
Overcoming great constructional difficulties, such as major bank slips and deep soft ground, a 8 km (5 mile) channel, five major bridges and Gold Corner pumping station were completed and in use by 1942.
Whilst the factory closed in 2008 the river still serves a vital drainage and irrigation function. The Environment Agency has worked to enhance its wildlife value with the planting of copses, creation of reed-beds and regrading of banks. Its wildlife importance has led to its designation as a National Nature Reserve (NNR) The river also plays a vital role in helping to maintain the right conditions for wildlife and farming over a significant portion of the southern half of the Avalon Marshes.