Ham Wall National Nature Reserve
Ham Wall NNR, near Glastonbury, is an internationally important wetland site and one of the largest reed beds in southern England. Restored from old peat workings, the site contains reed beds, wet scrub, open water, grassland and woodland supporting a wealth of wildlife including bittern, marsh harrier, kingfisher, water vole and otter. The reed beds at Ham Wall were specially created to encourage the booming bitterns to breed, which they did for the first time in Somerset for 40 years in 2008. You will often hear the bell-like ‘pinging’ calls of bearded tits in the reed beds long before you see them, as also applies with the explosive song of the rare Cetti’s warbler. Hobbies arrive at Ham Wall in late April and hunt across the reserve for small birds like martins, and dragonflies, which they catch in mid-air with their feet. Starlings congregate in vast numbers, or murmurations, in winter roosts in the reed beds.
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About the area
Somerset means ‘summer pastures’ – appropriate given that so much of this county remains rural and unspoiled. Ever popular areas to visit are the limestone and red sandstone Mendip Hills rising to over 1,000 feet, and by complete contrast, to the south and southwest, the flat landscape of the Somerset Levels. Descend to the Somerset Levels, an evocative lowland landscape that was the setting for the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685. In the depths of winter this is a desolate place and famously prone to extensive flooding. There is also a palpable sense of the distant past among these fields and scattered communities. It is claimed that Alfred the Great retreated here after his defeat by the Danes.
Away from the flat country are the Quantocks, once the haunt of poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. The Quantocks are noted for their gentle slopes, heather-covered moorland expanses and red deer. From the summit, the Bristol Channel is visible where it meets the Severn Estuary. So much of this hilly landscape has a timeless quality about it and large areas have hardly changed since Coleridge and Wordsworth’s day.
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