Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve
Located in the heart of the Somerset Levels, Shapwick Heath NNR has a variety of habitats, including wildflower meadows, ditches, dens, damp fern woods and open water surrounded by reed beds. From November to February, Shapwick Heath is one of the best places in England to see huge flocks of starlings – known as murmurations – which come to roost in winter. There is also a spring migration of the dashing little hobby falcon, arriving from tropical Africa. Around 64 different species of birds nest here, including Cetti’s warbler and great-crested grebes, while dragonflies and over 27 species of butterfly abound in the summer. These include the silver-washed fritillary, purple hairstreak and orange-tip, and the large and impressive white admiral. Over 24 different species of mammals have been seen at Shapwick, including water voles, lesser horseshoe bats and otters. Shapwick is also the location of the Neolithic Sweet Track, the oldest man-made roadway in Britain.
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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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