Exploring some of Somerset's
nature reserves with Liz Shaw
Living in a built up area of Bristol, I really have to make the most of any opportunities to get out and about in the countryside. Fortunately, some of the most beautiful areas of Somerset are right on my doorstep, and since moving here I’ve been gradually getting to know all the varied wild places that Somerset has to offer.
However, I still have many new places and habitats to explore, particularly the smaller and less well known reserves, and many species of flora and fauna still to see. I therefore recently decided to spend two afternoons exploring some new reserves and finding out what they have to offer.
Blue Skies and Birdsong
My first adventure took me to Black Rock and Long Wood reserves, part of Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Cheddar Complex, near to Cheddar Gorge. Despite having visited the gorge itself a few times, this was my first time venturing into these reserves.
After a spectacular drive through the gorge, I parked by the entrance to Black Rock and began the rocky climb up into the reserve. Against the odds, weeks of unseasonable cold and rain had turned into mild sunshine, and the area was alive with the sounds of song thrushes, blackcaps and chiffchaffs. The climb was not as steep as I had feared, and was lined with lovely moss-strewn rocks, hart’s tongue ferns, and the first bluebells and wild garlic of my visit.
Further on, the path reached a more open area where willow warblers and the odd whitethroat were adding their rich songs to the afternoon chorus, while a mystery song from the bushes turned out to be a fabulous male redstart. As well as appreciating the birdsong, it was also great to take some time to look more closely at the plant life, which included some stunning orchids.
At the far end of Black Rock, I headed into the shadier Long Wood, where an even greater treat awaited. I’ve seen bluebell woods before, but with the dappled afternoon sunlight filtering through lime-green new leaves, the buzz of insects, the bird song and the strong scent of wild garlic, this reserve really took my breath away. The carpet of bluebells, mixed in with blankets of wild garlic, almost seemed to be glowing blue in the sunlight.
There were plenty of birds too, including yet more song thrushes, as well as blackbirds, wrens, robins, a mistle thrush, and a nuthatch with a beak full of insects. Swifts screaming overhead seemed to be announcing that summer was on its way, and deer tracks hinted at some of the area’s mammal life.
Despite the busyness of Cheddar Gorge itself, and the number of cars parked on the road, there were only a handful of people about in both reserves, which is probably a good thing when you keep crouching onto your belly to take photographs!
Sunshine and Skylarks
Inspired by my visit to Black Rock and Long Wood, and with the sunshine putting me in the mood for wide, open spaces, I next took a trip to Draycott Sleights, a limestone escarpment with spectacular views across the Somerset Levels.
Fortunately I had picked a wonderfully warm, sunny day with little breeze, even at the top of the escarpment. My entire walk around the reserve was accompanied by a backdrop of skylark song (do they ever draw breath?!), as they hovered on rapidly fluttering wings before parachuting towards the ground.
Buzzards and ravens were also soaring overhead, and dozens of swallows and swifts were whizzing around feeding. At that height, it was great to be almost on “eye-level” with the birds as they flew around me.
The hills were also covered in wonderful carpets of golden buttercups, green-veined orchids, and some lovely butterfly and beetle species. Sitting among the buttercups, in the sun, with blue skies and skylarks above, it was incredibly peaceful and uplifting, and the tiny houses and cars far below seemed part of another world.
Explore for Yourself
I returned home after both my visits not just with a renewed sense of peace and refreshment, but also wondering why I had never been to these reserves before. Not only were the scenery and wildlife fantastic, but there was also an exhilarating sense of adventure in exploring new places.
Even familiar places can be dramatically different at different times of year, so it’s always worth re-visiting your favourite places too! Next on my list to explore are some of the Wildlife Trust’s wonderful wildflower meadows, and I can’t wait to see what I discover.
Why not go on an adventure and visit some of Somerset Wildlife Trust’s reserves for yourself? You can find out more by clicking on the following link to the Nature Reserves pages.
Liz Shaw is a zoologist, writer and amateur
wildlife photographer. She currently writes
endangered species profiles for ARKive.
To see more photographs from her walks
Wild garlic & bluebells © Liz Shaw
Bluebell & earwig © Liz Shaw
Draycott Sleights © Liz Shaw
Common blue butterfly © Liz Shaw