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Monday, December 04, 2006

Nature reserves

The Somerset Wildlife Trust recently asked members to complete a questionnair on the subject of: "Access to the Natural Environment for All, Prioritising Reserves for Improved Access."

I thought it might show something of the behind the scenes activity by the Trust to share my response on this blog. My comments,shown below, reflect the fact that we, as a new conservation group, have limited experience of the Trusts reserves but we are learning.

Here are some of the questions.

How many visitors use your reserves?
How are reserves used currently?
What are the main age groups of visitors?
What are the main benefits to the public of reserves?
What if any are the barriers to people visiting the reserves?
Are there any disadvantages of the public visiting the reserves?
Are there other users of the countryside that have caused problems in the past?

"My comments on the reserves are limited because neither I nor most of our committee have much awareness of our reserves. That's not very good I know but now we have the Heart of the Levels Group we are conscious that we need to rectify the situation. Last summer I tried to find out where our nearest reserves were and at least find the locations from the grid references. No small task I found.
You sent me four sheets. Aller and Beer Woods, Westhay Moor, Catcott Heath, Catcott Lows.
I have been to the first two, on two or three visits only.
I have no info on how many people visit the reserves.
I can only make general comments on the benefits of reserves and possible barriers to visits.
I also will attach my listing of reserves that are either in our area or nearby which includes the last three above. There are 20 reserves listed.
All the Westhay areas are out of our local area in any event. Beer and Aller Woods is probably our largest , most accessible and scenic local reserve. The list includes info I have been given about managers which I know is out of date now as David Reid has retired.
I have taken the opportunity of checking through the new booklet and comment on the entries there.

The booklet is very neat, handy size and well produced.
It took a little while to work out the way to use it though. I started by looking at the map, finding a reserve and noted the ref number.
I eventually realised that the ref number is not the page number and you need to go to the contents page which provides the page number but not the reserve ref number. Once I'd got that straight it is fine.Perhaps the contents page could say at the top left, page number and have on the right Reserve Map Ref Number.
I find the location map very useful but now it doesn't show the "other " reserves. Some of the others are our best sites i.e. Babcary Meadows and Dundon Beacon.
The individual maps are the same as for the old booklet. As I tried to find our reserves I found the maps too restricted in area and references to local roads. Hence it took a little effort to find them from grid references and the diagrams and to tie them down on OS maps.
Some don't have notice boards i.e.Fivehead Arable fields.
Despite the references to cycle and foot access many people will approach them by car and car parking arrangements are a bit limited in most cases so people really need to be forewarned with best, nearest, places to park. In some cases this is given.
Some reserves don't have diagrams at all, e.g. Beer and Aller Wood, Green Down.
I appreciate that it seems the intention to concentrate on a limited number of reserves which covers 8 of my list of 20. We could also include West Sedgemoor RSPB site and no doubt others. Then there are private reserves which we may try to identify and seek permission for visits.
Even with the new book I think we might be able to add detail for our local members to make it easier for them to get out to the reserves. Perhaps we will end up concentrating on a few.
If you ask me again in 12 months time I hope to be better informed.

What do we members get out of reserves?
The Westhay starlings display is out of this world on a good day! It really makes you realise how amazing the natural world is and its on our doorstep.
Seeing the herons nesting at West Sedgemoor is impressive.
Going on a fungus foray in Aller and Beer Woods in remarkable and fascinating.
"Clouds" of butterflies in a wild flower meadow can be quite startling for its unexpected beauty.
Places like Westhay even on a quiet day are so peaceful and natural with occasional sighting of birds getting on with their lives.
I must get to Green Down next summer on one of the visits to see the Large Blue butterfly.

What are the barriers?
All the points I mention above might help to reduce barriers.
Area Groups and Reserve Managers could perhaps cooperate more to get members to visit. Once they have had an escorted tour they will be much more likely to visit on their own initiative. This is our aim as far as possible.
It should help to be better informed about climate change issues and farming methods and management of the countryside.
I think Carymoor should be useful for us locally as an educational resource and I hope to visit soon. ( Dec 8th in fact).
School visits arranged by Area Groups might help.
As much information as possible about the best times to visit and what to look for must be important."


  1. As I have posted before I use The Great Breach Wood a lot as a place to walk and enjoy at all seasons of the year. Access to this, if you dont know how to get there, presents some problems. Particularly for access by car which unless you cycle is the only practical access.
    The reserve its self is some way from a road 1/4 to 1/2 mile walk in the middle of a larger wooded area.
    The reserve is signposted when you get into the part of the larger woodland where the reserve is located, but from the initial access points there are no indications where the reserve is.
    Pathways are mown in the reserve in the autumn and judging purely from the degree that these become muddy and apparently used quite a lot, people find the reserve. Though it must be said that one doesnt often meet up with other visitors.
    The other reserves that are near to me, Green Down and Babcary Meadows have similar access issues. Unless you are aware of their existance, finding them is not easy as there is no signposting for the reserve untill you are on the boarders. In the case of both these reserves, while the signposts for the pathways that you need to travel over are in place (South Somerset District Council are to be commended). There is no linkage between these and the Trust's reserves.

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