Local landscapes

Levels and moors


It will be helpful to have a clearer idea of places described and visited during events covered in the Diary. With this in mind, I have inserted pictures of the landscapes involved, many of which are local or national reserves and easy to visit. I hope this will make it all seem more relevant to visitors or those watching from afar. See Diary - Recent events - for details of map references and entry. All the ones mentioned here are free entry, without any need for a permit to look around. It is perhaps ironic that most of these places are on old peat diggings, some of the few areas where heathland and the old herbage is to some extent preserved. This contrasts with current conservation views on the horrors of stripping peat from the land. The difference, I suppose, is that the original peat-harvesting was on a small scale, as opposed to modern industrial-scale methods though the end result is the same - areas where farming is no longer viable, leaving the wild plants and wildlife to re-colonise the land.In pictures of some of the reserves I have added photographs of wildlife typical for that location. At the bottom of any relevant section, a picture shows any particular wildlife speciality in the area.

Additional sets of pictures are found in the next section Mendip.


THE LEVELS AND MOORS

This huge bight out of Somerset (coloured pale green) was flooded all winter and much of the summer, until the 1800s, when the land was first enclosed. Then steam-driven pumps were used in conjunction with artificial rhynes, drains and ditches, to open up the summer pastures. Now, elecric pumps controlled by the latest electronics, keep the water-level as decided by the authorities for much of the time, though periodically winter floods defeat even those efforts. Above all, though, it remains a water-bound land with wildlife attuned to that background. This is a very beautiful part of the world, flat but always with a rim of distant hills to give scale.

Map showing the Somerset Levels and Moors - ex Wikipedia

Attribution: Contains Ordnance Survey data          

© Crown copyright and database right

Catcott Fen

One of the most recent reserves, at this date (July 2014) still a work in progress, though the final form is there and a new tower hide has been built near the south-east border, overlooking open water and reeds. As in so many projects in this part of the world, it is based on old peat diggings (what would we have done without the old small-scale diggings?). Diggers spent much of a winter producing just the profiles needed to bring in wildfowl and other water-birds, and we watched over nearly a year while water-levels crept up and showed just what it would be like. It promises to be another real asset and we have already seen Hen harriers, Great white egrets and Otters to back that up. It is a wild and lonely place with a splendid walk around the outer edges.

Catcott Heath

One of the early reserves, largely forgotten in recent years but now coming into its own with the development of the larger Catcott complex.It is a distinctly wild area, with paths wandering through stands of Bog myrtle, sweet-smelling throughout the year. Some winters see the area flooding but this vanishes in summer. There are numbers of experimental pools in old peat pits which are used in research into dragonfly and other emergences. Well worth the exploration.


Catcott Lows

A fine reserve, part of a much larger SSSI managed by the Somerset Wildlife Trust. During summer, it is rough grassland but really comes to life in the winter when the majority of the area floods, providing one deep-water channel, but the majority is shallow, perfect for surface-feeding ducks, waders and others. I tried to avoid showing birds in these landscapes but Catcott is so steeped in ducks that it does not look right not to include a mass in the background when disturbed by a falcon overhead, as so often occurs.


Greylake

A large wetland reserve reclaimed from old potato fields by the owners and operators, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It has a splendid hide in the middle reached by a proper track from the car park. In the summer, it becomes a breeding ground for numbers of grassland species but in the winter it is transformed into damp wetlands interspersed with ditches, rhynes and ponds. These attract huge numbers of ducks and many predators attracted to this splendid food source.



 

Ham Wall

This RSPB national nature reserve reserve has been lovingly and extensively restored from old peat diggings. It has huge reed-beds, extensive areas of water of varying depth and has become a major magnet for visiting and breeding birds. The process took a long time but has paid off to an extent that few of us would have imagined originally. The main walk through is elevated above the surrounding areas, as it is made up from the old tracks of a long-vanished railway. It adjoins the equally important Shapwick Heath NNR, providing the very large area of semi-wilderness which has been found to be one of the really important factors for increasing bird numbers.

Shapwick Heath

One of the great wildlife reserves, managed by English Nature as the heart of a larger area now designated the Avalon Marshes (although marshes is not a term used in this part of Somerset). The idea all along has been to bring together as large an areas possible to provide sanctuary and the widest span of conditions in which wildlife can flourish. The dedicated people have succeeded beyond their dreams in bringing this about. The reserve has been carved out from many acres of heath that had been worked out for peat over the years and the actions taken have more than worked.

 

Street Heath

is a large area of worked-out peat diggings. The way to the Somerset Wildlife Trust reserve leads through private grounds and fisheries which prove as rich and interesting as the reserve itself. The herbage along the edges of the drove is rich in insects which go to support the other wildlife of the area. Autumn, in particular, is a good time to visit, with sawflies, dragonflies and hoverflies everywhere. The old diggings provide ponds galore and these are noisy with Marsh-frogs. The drove provides a fine walk, ending up between woodlands before coming to the reserve on the right. Here ponies help keep down the vegetation but beware, there are hidden pits all over the rough grass and herbage relics of some long-gone enterprise. Most are indicated by rough fencing but the unwary can be caught out.

 

 

Tealham & Tadham Moors

are said to be the lowest parts of the moors north of the Polden hills. While earlier attempts at drainage have been contained and a new regime introduced to attempt to negate these in their effects on wildlife, it must be admitted that it is no longer the powerhouse for birdlife that it once was. Nevertheless, these 2000 acres are well worth visiting. Droves cutting into the fields encourage easy walking and it is easy to get away from everyone. The views are stunning and water is everywhere, dominated by the North Drain and the River Brue. The water table is never far below the surface and during the winter flooding is frequent.

Westhay Moor

a national nature reserve and part of the Avalon Marshes scheme. Large areas of old peat diggings lead to extensive reed beds and many acres of water. A number of hides offer great access to the numerous wildlife, with easy walking along hard or grassy droves. There is no danger of birds being driven from their habitat by too many visitors as they always have extensive reeds and hidden ponds to keep their privacy. In this way an excellent balance between access and secrecy is maintained so the area has become famed for the variety and numbers of wildfowl and other species. 

 

 

Landscapes - Mendip


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