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Monday, March 26, 2007

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this Somerset

View along the River Parrett towards Langport

View from Aller Woods across Aller Moor towards West Sedge Moor

Apologies to William Shakespeare but he must have had Somerset in mind when he wrote his play Richard II in 1595.
Now, 18 months after starting our new group and having chosen a name which links us to the Somerset Levels it seems right to stop and look in a bit more detail at the area where we live and how well "we" are managing it for wildlife.

A vast amount of literature exists concerning the Somerset Levels and Moors and there are many government and non government organisations who have an interest in the area. Wildlife sits in the middle of interests ranging from jobs and commerce to housing,transport, sport and pastimes.The area is large and well described by Michael Stirling in an excellent compilation of historical research reviews,comments and illustrations. He introduces his work as follows:

"Looking South from the jagged rampart of the Mendip Hills, some 200 square miles of Somerset are laid before you: gentle expanses of field and water; a lacework of rivers and marshes. Between your eyrie and the distant horizon of the Quantock Hills,this great plain is broken in half by an East-West ridge of wooded meadows and little villages that make up the Polden Hills.
The Northern areas make up the Vale of Avalon; the Southern half, up to the gates of Langport and Taunton are known as Sedgemoor, usually referred to by the locals as The Levels."

One of the many typical documents produced in recent years and available via the web is titled, "The Parrett Catchment. Water Management Strategy Action Plan", Spring 2002 in which Humphrey Temperley, Chairman of the Parrett Catchment Project claims,

" The actions within ( the Plan ) are not just another list of studies instead of work on the ground, they are practical steps forward to dealing with the Parrett Catchment's problems of flooding,conservation interests, communities and the threat of climate change."

The fact that so many reports exist raises the question of who, if anyone, has an overall controlling interest. After some time on the web and reading some of the documents available it seems that the top of the chain is Somerset County Council (SCC).
Their Environment Dept currently lists the Parrett Catchment Project and describes how "local agencies and people came together in 2000 to form the Parrett Catchment Project (PCP), whose aim it is to take action to address the issue of flooding now, rather than storing up problems for the future."

SCC also is responsible through its Countryside Services Dept for two other groups. "LAMP"(Levels and Moors Partnership) and "The Parrett Trail".

A consultancy report dated Sept, 2005, by "Land Use Consultants", identified a number of problems arising from overlapping interests and powers and recommended that a Standing Conference of some 30 organisations should be set up. This does not seem to have happened so responsibility for coordination of the many and presumably sometimes conflicting interests must stay with SCC.

Concerns of other organisations can be illustrated by these brief extracts from their web sites.

The National Trust. A current news item.

Just this week the National Trust has published a report in which Director-General Fiona Reynolds has called on the Government to make the conservation of peat moorlands a climate change priority.

We still have an active peat extraction industry in Somerset.

The story can be read on their web site at:

"Vital carbon stores at risk

Urgent Government action needed to defuse Britain’s hidden climate change timebomb.
• Peat and carbon
• The crisis
• Taking action
• Government action
National Trust Director-General Fiona Reynolds has called on the Government to make the conservation of peat moorlands a climate change priority. At the same time, she announced a call to action for thousands of volunteers to help save the precious peat resources of the Peak District.

At a briefing outlining the growing threat to the UK’s peatlands, Fiona Reynolds commented:
'The simple message is that we need to give greater priority to conserving our peatlands or risk losing the nation’s largest carbon store'."

The RSPB is very much involved on the Levels as can be seen from their web site at:

RSPB Somerset Levels and Moors Project.

The Somerset Levels and Moors is the largest extensive area of lowland wet grassland remaining in Britain and supports huge flocks of waterfowl in the winter, including internationally important numbers of Bewick's swans, golden plovers, teals and lapwings.
It is also one of the most important breeding areas for lapwings, curlews, redshanks and snipe - wading birds that all require wet grassland. In addition there are important botanical communities and a rich invertebrate fauna. For these reasons much of the area is designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA), Ramsar site and Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA).

The RSPB's Somerset Levels and Moors project complements the work of their two Somerset reserves by developing conservation activities in the wider area, with a dedicated project officer, James Millett. The project focuses on the continued conservation of breeding and wintering birds through advocacy, education, research and monitoring. The project has developed productive working relationships with a wide range of government agencies, non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders."

And the last word should go to the Somerset Wildlife Trust in their appeal made last September concerning a proposal for a tidal exclusion sluice across the River Parrett which could be disastrous for Somerset’s wildlife and environment.

"We are urgently seeking your help in the fight to stop the sluice from becoming a reality by making your views known to the Environment Agency by the Friday 15 September. There is less than a week to make our voices heard.

What’s the issue?

There is growing body of political and officer support for the idea of a sluice on the River Parrett below Bridgwater in the misguided belief that shutting out the tide is the best way to tackle flood risk and also to revitalise Somerset’s waterways.

There is no formal environmental assessment but it is already clear that the sluice would pose a major threat to wildlife. By blocking the natural daily ebb and flow of the tides it would cause major environmental impacts and alter habitats along the whole course of the river.

Migratory fish, other specialised plants and animals and even the teaming flocks of waders and wildfowl that rely on the mudflats of the Parrett Estuary and even Bridgwater Bay could all be badly affected.

In reality there is expert evidence which suggests that there is no need for a barrier of any sort to prevent tidal flooding for the next 30 years. Even then it is a tidal surge barrier - to exclude only extreme tides - which would be likely to be needed."

These are only a few of the concerns being voiced in the interest of protecting wildlife for the future. They demonstrate that there are a great many issues which can have a major impact on wildlife on our doorstep and about which, I for one know, little about.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wildlife Information Services

The Somerset Wildlife Trust aims to set up a Wildlife Information Service.

Whilst waiting to find out how they intend to do so, it may be worth looking around at other Trusts to see what is happening else where and what is available already for Somerset Members.

A visit to five other Wildlife Trust sites showed significant differences in how this subject is handled.

The National Wildlife Trust Organisation uses what I regard as a somewhat cluttered, old fashioned home page which is not very attractive to view and contains a lot of references but no form of information help line. There is the usual contact us facility which I have used in the past and received an answer.You can see their web site by clicking here.

The Wiltshire Wildlife Trust home page is brighter but still a bit cluttered. There is an FAQ feature under the heading of “The Questions you ask us” which covers a lot of typical subjects. There is also a heading, “Use our Expertise”, which looks promising. There is a contact us facility but no offer of a telephone help line. Here is their web site.

The Dorset Wildlife Trust has a brighter home page and uses interesting good photos to lead you to main pages which are encouraging. There is no mention of a telephone help line or information service. Here is their web site.

The Devon Wildlife Trust uses the same or similar format to the National site and as noted above is in my view a bit dull and uninviting. If you have a question you need to go to “Other Services” then find a sub heading saying “Wildlife Advice Service” and this gives you an FAQ which covers many topics. There is also a link to “Devon Wildlife Consultants” which carries out paid work on ecological surveys etc. However there is no telephone help line and only the usual contact us feature. Here is a link to their web site.

The Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust
To get a view from further a field I looked at this Trust and found a refreshingly bright and inviting home page. Under some attractive photos are link buttons which take you first to an “Advice” page and then to “Wildlife Information” where a friendly welcome is given with the words:

“We can help you to identify plants and animals, find out how to garden for wildlife or answer your general questions about local wildlife and conservation.”
Here is a link to their web page

Of all these Trusts the BBOWT site is my preferred model.

Finally back at the Somerset Wildlife Trust
. The home page is along the lines of the National web site as is the Devon site. It has some good feature such as the map showing all the reserves, the volunteering and education pages are well thought out although putting those areas in a separate box seems a bit off putting. It certainly isn’t as easy as just having a button at the top of the home page. However it suffers as do most of the sites looked at by packing too much onto a page and from the point of view of this report, there is little to say welcome in a friendly way and only the formal contact us box. No telephone help line for questions about wildlife. Not even an FAQ. An example of too much information is given by the Contact Us page. Here apart from the main switchboard number your eye is drawn to Donations, News, Events and also a small box for Staff which to my mind deserves a much more prominent display. Here is their web site.

In conclusion it is clear to me that the SWT is correct to have an intention to establish a Wildlife Information Service. There are other Trusts who already have such a service although not all. Out of 6 looked at, only one, BBOWLT, was considered good in achieving this form of service for its members. There is another test I should apply and that is to actually use the links on each web site to see how it performs. That will have to be another post in a week or so.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Herald

Here are some details for the moth shown in my previous post.
The moth was seen at rest inside the buildings on a visit to Somerton Mill.

2469 The Herald Scoliopteryx libatrix
(Linnaeus, 1758)
Wingspan 40-45 mm. Web site for identification of moth.

Quite a spectacular species, this colourful moth overwinters as an adult, and as a result, can be one of the last species to be seen in one year, and one of the first in the next. It is also sometimes found hibernating inside barns and outbuildings.

The adults are attracted to both light and sugar, and the species is fairly common and well distributed over much of Britain, though it is less common in Scotland.

The larvae feed on willow (Salix) and poplar (Populus).

Bullrushes in the stream feeding the mill.

View of the Somerton Mill from across the stream and gardens.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Spring review

Moth resting inside the water mill building.

Primroses at the Somerton water mill.

Spring time at the old water mill at Somerton.

Our group blog needs a spring review which can look at format and content. Its relatively easy to cherry pick news items from the many sources available which includes information from the SWT,newspapers such as the Times, Guardian, Independent, web site run by NGO's, blogs such as those linked on this blog and the BBC.
As editor I can pick and choose items that catch my interest and they may be directly wildlife or by association like climate change. I have been trying to include my own photographs and others by agreement and I think they add a lot to the interest. My camera had to be sent away for repairs which has stopped my photographic exploits but all is well again so one or two more will be added. The photo's shown above were taken during a visit to a 17century water mill near Somerton last week.
Most people who have commented directly or indirectly have said they find the blog of interests but it seems difficult to widen the audience locally which is a prime purpose. However it can also claim to be an important record over time of our group development as well as a means of communication.
Looking at similar forms of e communications it may be a better idea to see this blog as a diary using the model of Mark Mardell's European Diary which he publishes each week on a Thursday. It has the benefit of allowing a week to collect information and data and photographs and time to compose a more thoughtful report. It would be a high standard to aim for for so much the better. Perhaps I should set myself a date like March 22nd for my next post!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Environmental Leadership tests!

Green groups set tests for environmental leadership.

Group members may be interested to see the Wildlife Trust taking a positive step in fighting for wildlife in Somerset. A full account of this action can be seen on the Trusts web site. Click here.

SOMERSET Wildlife Trust is joining forces with the UK’s leading environmental groups to throw down the gauntlet to the three main political parties on six critical environmental issues.

This initiative is supported by the CPRE, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Green Alliance, National Trust, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust, and WWF.

"The parties must develop policies commensurate with the scale of the challenges facing us in relation to climate change, the countryside and wildlife.

"The public and business want more from politicians. We hope that all parties will meet The Green Standard.”

Simon Nash, chief executive of Somerset Wildlife Trust, added: "We need strong leadership now to save our environment. And the public is ready to follow: concern for the environment now leads the list of public concerns at 44 per cent. But what does strong leadership mean? It means our leaders must commit to stitch the countryside back together to allow wildlife to adapt to climate change, and provide strong protection for our seas."

"It means getting planning right. It means getting urban regeneration right. It means getting farming right. It means getting the Marine Bill right. Above all it means boldness, vision and resolve."

The Green Standard: Tests for environmental leadership

UK action on climate change

Achieve reductions in UK carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of at least 3% year on year, en route to a low-carbon economy based on energy efficiency, renewable sources of energy and decentralised energy.

International action on climate change
Provide international leadership to restrict global temperature rises to 2°C and ensure worldwide emissions are falling by 2015.

Green living

Make it cheaper and easier for individuals to reduce their environmental impact through tax, regulation, information and other powers of government.

Natural environment
Protect and enhance the beauty, accessibility and wildlife of the environment in our countryside, towns and seas through incentives, regulation, investment and other powers of government.

Value, support and develop our planning system as a democratic tool for protecting and enhancing the natural and built environment of our countryside and towns.

Environmental tax and subsidies

Green the tax system by increasing the amount of revenue from taxes that reduce environmental damage, and eliminate environmentally perverse subsidies.

Further Information:

In an environmental leadership initiative, the groups, which command more than five million supporters, will address a panel of David Miliband MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, Chris Huhne MP, Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary and Peter Ainsworth MP, Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment and launch a series of tests against which they will judge the three main parties in the lead-up to the next General Election.

The nine groups behind today’s initiative will publish regular assessments of the main political parties’ environmental performance, and mobilise their members behind the tests.

The first assessment of the parties’ performance against the tests will be published in September this year, ahead of the annual party conferences. The final assessment will be published prior to the next General Election.

The launch of The Green Standard: Tests for environmental leadership will be on Tuesday 27 February, 10.30 -12.30, at Local Government House, Smith Square, London. The event will be chaired by Edward Stourton and spokespersons attending will be David Miliband, Secretary of State for the Environment Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary and Peter Ainsworth, Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment.

News update

I recently sent this email to about 80 members and friends of the Somerset
Wildlife Trust, Heart of the Levels Group for information.

1) Here are details of our next public meeting on March 8th.

Farming and wildlife are inseparable in Somerset. We expect to hear how
FWAG spreads good practice that enables farmers to successfully utilise
their land to generate an acceptable income whilst managing their farms to
provide habitats and food for wildlife.We hope the meeting will help us
understand how this can be achieved.

Statement from the FWAG web site:
"The Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) is the UK's only independent
and dedicated provider of environmental and conservation advice and
consultancy to farmers and crofters. Formed in 1969, FWAG has grown into a
network of 120 highly skilled Farm Conservation Advisers located within 55
regional and county groups across the UK."


Farming and Wildlife in Somerset

a talk by Adam Lockyear from FWAG

Somerset's Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group

Thursday March 8th 7.30pm

United Reformed Church Hall, West Street, Somerton

All welcome.

Cost £1.50 including refreshments.

Free Parking in Somerton main car park

Presented by The Heart of the Levels Group of the Somerset Wildlife Trust.


2) We are pleased to pass on an invitation from the RSPB. We have suggested Sat April 14th . There will be a limit on the numbers that can be accommodated on any one visit but I'm sure we could arrange a second tour if

An invitation from the West Sedgmoor Office of the RSPB to join a conducted tour of their new reserve at Grey Lake and with the option to start with a tour of the West Sedgemoor Reserve famous for its heronry and water fowl.

"I recently lead a group from the Wells SWT around the Greylake Nature
Reserve and thought it would be a good idea to make contact and invite
yourself and the Heart of the Levels group on a guided visit too.

It would be great to meet the group and to show you the work that the RSPB
has been doing in this area, talk about our conservation management
priorities and have a look at some of the wildlife that is benefiting from
our work - as well as to hear your views and thoughts and priorities.

If you like we could also visit the West Sedgemoor Reserve and see the
heronry and the woodlands and talk about management for dormice, hedgerow
management for butterflies, hay meadows etc etc. The two reserves are only
15 mins apart, and we could spend 1- 2hrs at each site with a lunch stop
somewhere maybe?

I see from your website that you have a relatively full programme of events
in the near future - but if you like the sound of this, then suggest a date
and we will see what we can sort out.

Spring, summer or autumn or next winter would all be fine - there is plenty
to see/talk about at all times of year - although obviously some times are
better for access and for seeing wildlife than others!"


3) I recently emailed our committee on the subject of finding members
who have completed the basic First Aid course and who will be prepared to
join our walks and reserve visits. This note is to extend the request to a
wider group of our membership.

"The local Red Cross run a basic first aid course. They ask for a donation of £35 per person for a one day course and will be running one on March 25th but need to know soon to confirm.
Please let me know if you wish to join this course or a future one if this
date is inconvenient. We do need some additional first aiders to be able to
organise walks etc. If you do the course there is no obligation to join our walks but
we hope you will, subject to availability on any given date."