“New” super reserve for Somerset
England’s second ‘super’ National Nature Reserve (NNR) has been declared in Somerset by Natural England. The creation of the reserve coincides with the 70th anniversary of the creation of national nature reserves. NNRs were established on 19 May 1952. To mark the anniversary, the Festival of National Nature Reserves is launching today celebrating NNRs past, present, and future.
The first of this new breed of “super” reserves was created in Purbeck Heaths in Dorset in March 2020. The new Somerset reserve is actually a combination of six existing NNRs of Bridgwater Bay, Ham Wall, Huntspill River, Shapwick Heath, Somerset Levels and Westhay Moor. The ambition is to effect landscape-level changes to tackle the climate, nature and wellbeing crises through partnership working. As well as helping create a wonderful wildlife destination for visitors and residents, which benefits the local economy.
The designation of an NNR is a legal device and ensures legal protections within the area of the reserve. It ensures nature and the environment will be protected. Today they are also places for nature recovery and nature-based solutions to climate change. As Dr James Robinson, Director of Conservation at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), points out: “The beautiful, shore-side wetlands at WWT Steart Marshes not only support an incredibly rich array of wildlife, but are also a highly effective carbon sink which research shows store 10,000 tonnes of carbon each year.“
The new super reserve will contain a lot of rare species. A third of the UK’s bittern population can be found in the new reserve. As can avocets, black-and-white waders which bred in Somerset in 2012 for the first time in more than 150 years. You’ll also find the great white egret, which bred for the first time in Somerset ten years ago. And of course the cranes released in the Somerset Levels in an effort to re-establish a British population. And let’s not forget the marsh harrier either.
But it is not just about rare birds. The murmurations, great flypasts of millions of starlings can be seen in the wetlands in October.
At the other end of the spectrum the new reserve will host butterflies such as the once extinct large blue. The purple hairstreak and white admiral butterflies can also be found here.
And there are cultural sites of great significance too. The Sweet Track from around 3.500BC is generally reckoned to be the oldest trackway in Britain. It crosses stretches of Shapwick Heath. Sections of kit can be seen in the British Museum’s Stonehenge exhibition.
The Somerset Wetlands NNR at some 6,140ha will be the third largest in England. the largest two are The Wash (8,777.50ha) and Moor House-Upper Teesdale (8,669.74ha).
There’ll be a much bigger article addressing some of the issues the creation of the reserve raises in the next edition of The Leveller.