The Somerset Levels and Moors are one of Somerset’s most protected landscapes for biodiversity principally: breeding wader populations; wintering waterfowl and waders; flower-rich wet grasslands; and rich invertebrate assemblages in rivers, ditches and rhynes. They are also probably the most vulnerable - water and flooding define the area - paradoxically resulting in its huge wildlife interest and its extreme vulnerability to change and potential damage. The Parrett, Tone, Brue and Axe are the main rivers draining into the Somerset part of the Levels.
Our vision for the Somerset Levels and Moors is of a landscape where wildlife flourishes across one of the UK’s largest wetlands and has a long term future, and where we can see the return of species long lost from the landscape. Our nature reserves, in particular the Catcott Complex and Westhay Moor NNR, are vital pieces of an ecological network of wetlands and waterways, that protect wildlife and enable it to thrive and move through the landscape. Many of the nature reserves have been created from ex peat workings and exemplary management of the sites’ mosaic of wetland habitats will protect a suite of key species particularly wintering waterfowl; breeding waders such as snipe, redshank and lapwing; and a host of other iconic species such as the bittern, bearded tit, crane, European eel, otter and water vole.
To be successful in securing our vision for the Levels and Moors we must be able to focus on several complementary approaches:
- We must ensure the most important sites for wildlife are protected as nature reserves – not in isolated pockets but as part of larger wetland landscape. This means we need to encourage landowners and farmers to provide a diversity of habitats all year round; retaining species-rich open pastures, grazed seasonally by cattle in a way that is sensitive to the needs of breeding waders in summer, and which also creates a resilient grassland that can endure a level of flooding during winter.
- Since the 2013-14 flooding events, the dominant narrative in the floodplains has focussed on hard engineering schemes and dredging to reduce flood risk, overlooking flood risk reduction techniques that work with nature and provide a range of benefits to society. A future is developing where more public money will be spent on fossil fuel intensive dredging and pumping, to further drain the peat soils of the Levels, thus releasing more carbon and exacerbating climate change. As peat is drained, it shrinks, lowering land height and making the area ever more vulnerable to extreme weather. Well-informed debate on the future of Somerset’s low lying areas in the face of sea level is limited, so a further vital component of our work on the Levels is to communicate a more optimistic narrative for the Levels which gives nature its proper value and people are aware of the need for new solutions to flooding and coastal defense in light of increasing impacts of climate change.
- A key part of our work is also to help people understand the importance of the Levels and Moors, encourage them to visit and generate a positive ‘sense of place’. When people begin to learn, they understand and are more likely to love and when they love, they protect and take action. We will encourage people to visit our nature reserves in the Avalon Marshes and experience nature at its very best. We will explore new ways of helping people understand and value the Levels and its wildlife. This will include interpreting and facilitating access to our nature reserves; promoting the health and well-being benefits of nature; inspiring people to become members and life-long supporters of the Trust and being part of a giving community that is confident to stand-up for the nature in this brilliant place.