Somerset Wildlife Trust

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Community helps shape plans for new Avalon Marshes Centre

 21st Jan 2011

PRESS RELEASE: For Immediate Release 
Group with model (photo © Robert Atkins) 

Members of the local community had their say about plans for a new visitor and community centre for the Avalon Marshes at an open day held on January 8.

The new centre, proposed by a group of partner organisations (Natural England, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Somerset County Council, Somerset Wildlife Trust, Hawk and Owl Trust) for the former cafe and garden centre site at Shapwick Road, Westhay, will celebrate the natural and cultural heritage of the Somerset Levels and Moors. Facilities will include a café and shop promoting local food and crafts; space for local businesses; and dedicated areas for education activities.

More than 100 people attended the community open day, held at the Lifelong Learning Centre on the Natural England site at Shapwick Road. The proposed plans were on display and representatives from all the partner organisations, and architects, were on hand to hear people’s views and answer questions.

Taunton firm Mark Richmond Architects is working on the project. Architect, Mark Richmond, said: ”The meeting was well attended by local people who had several interesting comments. Where possible we will incorporate their ideas into the proposed scheme”.

There will be another opportunity to comment on the revised scheme on January 29th at the Lifelong Learning Centre on the Natural England site at Shapwick Road, Westhay. Following this, a planning application will be submitted to Mendip District Council.

Developed with Devizes-based engineer Mark Lovell, the proposed buildings are designed to have minimum impact on the site and to be constructed as far as possible from local materials including reed and timber. Solar panels are proposed to provide some green energy and water treatment will utilise a sustainable reed bed system.

If granted planning permission, the partners will be seeking local community help in both funding and running the proposed centre, with the aim of opening in 2012.

The plans will be available to view at the Lifelong Learning Centre on the Natural England site at Shapwick Road, Westhay on the 29th January and via the web at

For more information download a Q & A about the project.

For more information contact:
Beth Jerrett, Somerset Wildlife Trust 01823 652413
Mark Richmond Architects: Mark Richmond 01823 323252

Photo captions (credit Robert Atkins):

Group with model: Architect, Mark Richmond, explains a model of the plans to members of the local community.
Partners: Representatives from the partner organisations were on hand to hear people’s views and answer questions: (L to R) RSPB Peter Exley; Somerset County Council Bob Croft; Structural Engineer Mark Lovell; Architect Mark Richmond; Somerset Wildlife Trust Simon Nash; Natural England Mark Watson.

Notes to editors:
• Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve is situated in the Brue Valley in the heart of the Somerset Levels and Moors to the west of Glastonbury. It is part of a large complex of connected wetland habitats of international importance for birds, plants and invertebrates.
• The Somerset Levels and Moors are the most important inland Wetland site in the United Kingdom, supporting more wintering wildfowl than any other inland site.
• The Somerset Levels and Moors are of international importance for the archaeological heritage associated with the history and development of the wet peatland landscape and its use and occupation by man.
• The proposed development site has been operated successfully in the past as a combined cafe and garden centre, receiving around 40,000 visitors per annum.
• Development of new visitor facilities will hopefully serve as a place to experience, learn about and celebrate the wonderful Somerset Wetlands.
The proposed Centre will provide educational and interpretation facilities for a Landscape Partnership Project for the Avalon Marshes area. That project will be largely funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund and will be designed to help protect, interpret and celebrate the special landscape and its natural and cultural heritage.