The Avalon Marshes conservation organisations have been working together for many years, driven by a joint recognition of the area’s rich natural and cultural heritage and by the potential opportunities for creative conservation provided by the worked-out peat voids. This work came together in the creation and management of the nature reserves and at the Avalon Marshes Centre, where the wildlife partners developed an operational base alongside Somerset County Council’s Peat Moors Centre (now closed).
Quite when the Avalon Marshes name was first coined is unclear. What is clear is that the established name and strength of the partnership, as well as the unique character of the landscape, provided a strong basis for a successful application to the Heritage Lottery Fund in November 2011 for Landscape Partnership funding.
The Landscape Partnerships programme is one of Heritage Lottery’s most successful funding programmes. Funding is given to local based partnerships, over a 3 – 5 year period, to conserve areas of distinctive landscape character and to engage people in their conservation, enjoyment and understanding.
The Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership Scheme has benefited from this funding. Since its approval in March 2012 the scheme, which ended in November 2016, has seen an investment of £1,772,500 by the Heritage Lottery Fund matched by £743,260 from other sources and £176,820 from in-kind match funding .
Over 60 projects have been delivered ranging from mire restoration to the conservation of waterlogged archaeological sites, from historic reconstructions to new bird hides, and from wetland stories with schools to species recording with volunteers. During the course of the scheme more than 16,000 people will have been engaged as participants in events, educational activities and training courses, or as volunteers.
The current Avalon Marshes Centre although functional is far from ideal, having evolved out of buildings left over from its days as a garden centre. After previous unsuccessful attempts, funding has now been secured for a first phase of development from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Led by Natural England, work will get underway in spring 2017. New offices will be built as an extension of the current workshops, a waste water treatment system installed and other essential work undertaken.
This will then open up the rest of the site for further development, including access to the historic reconstructions built as part of the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership scheme, This will help to ensure that the centre is fit for purpose and worthy of the Avalon Marshes growing reputation. Discussions are being held between Natural England and its partners to agree how further phases of the development and the future operation of the site are best taken forward.
Although the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership Scheme finished at the end of November 2016, the partners remain committed to working together to:
The new agreement between the partners has been drafted and is in the process of being signed. It includes a shared vision, aims and objectives, as well as a commitment to working together on the ground to provide a fitting legacy to the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership scheme and to the investment from Heritage Lottery.