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.