“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.

One comment

  • “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”.

    BRAVO! A ‘reliance’ on Somerset’s ‘largest-circulation’ Newspaper over a decennial, to do justice to the long awaited ‘review’ of our ‘unique-landscape-heritage’ (England’s 2nd National Nature Reserve) of which further ‘erudition’ promised in a subsequent LEVELLER! I served on Mendip District Council in those inaugural quadrennials, pace 1974, embracing with alacrity the Mendip AONB, which over a period of fifty years, witness to a ‘plethora’ of ‘mini-fiefdoms’ whither the ‘buck-stops’ where? An expectation ‘worthy’ of the ‘designation’ and its devolved management structure a ‘root and branch’ delineation of ‘joined-up’ management of which ‘local-governance’ in my experience never an epitaph. A plea of more than ‘lip-service’ to our historic ‘foot-paths’ with a ‘renewed-focus’ on the DISABLED; happy to accompany an ‘expose’ of the Milton Slopes!

    Prophetic my ’email’ to MENDIP AONB incumbent-warden ‘elected-members’ transitory!

    Oct 17, 2020 at 12:58 PM Graham Livings wrote:

    Good morning Jim

    Looking west some 30 miles the creation perfection, the writer some fifty years of ‘stewardship’ the AONB, pace Fyfe/Elkins/Davies! Interested in your ‘web-cam’ initiative with Westbury Parish Council in line with that some twelve months ago here in Wells, can you ‘download’ transcript; needs to be replicated across most of 350 Somerset Parish Councils & or Somerset Association of Local Councils to arrange a ‘webcam’ vitally across our schools; the ‘GREEN’ initiative all too fragmented, pace the ‘proliferation’ of ‘fencing’ panels across Mendip. I thought the ‘contribution’ of the former Somerset Wildlife Trust ‘ranger’ an expose of how ‘institutions’ permit something that works (principally volunteers) to whither on the vine; can you let me have his email & or let him have mine?

    Always remember reform comes from down under the ‘individual’ holding the four aces never wants a new deal’ twas always so! When can your diary permit that ‘promised’ visit? The ‘elected’ member transitory; were all GREENS nowadays; aren’t we!*

    Graham E Livings, Lilliput, upper Milton, Wells. BA5 3AH
    *”The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) guides local authorities in relation to planning decisions. The NPPF has a glaring omission; the word ‘hedge’ does not exist anywhere in the document, and consequently hedges are the first casualty of greenfield site or ‘garden grabbing’ developments”.

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