Shapwick Nature Reserve lies in the heart of the Somerset Levels and its
landscape is dominated by water.
Every inch of this low lying habitat
is classed as wetland, whether it is woodland, grassland or open water.
at Shapwick. |
Photo c/o Natural England
whole area is home to an exceptional array of wildlife including birds of prey,
deer and otters.
Heath was once covered by the sea, but the water retreated about 4,500 years ago
and the area was initially colonised by reedbeds and then by sedge and fen woodland.
The old vegetation eventually became peat, and Neolithic settlers moved
into the surrounding dry land, constructing wooden track ways across the wetlands.
Peat was extracted for use as fuel as far back as the Romans, and the hand-cutting
of peat continued into the 1950s.
In the 13th Century the area was starting
to be drained started for grazing land.
Today its wide variety of
habitats range from traditionally managed grassland and ferny wet woodland to
fen, scrub, and ditches rich in aquatic plants and creatures.
of the most notable Spring visitors to Shapwick Heath is the Hobby - in early
May this bird arrives in the UK from its wintering rounds in Africa.
is one of the quickest birds of prey with the ability and agility to pluck dragonflies
straight out of the sky.
Hobbies can fly at speeds of up to 100 miles an
hour in level flight.
They're easiest to watch then they're up high, drifting
about looking for prey beneath to stoop down on.
These birds love Shapwick
and its reed beds which are crammed with potential food for them.
a long migration the birds need a good meal to re-charge before they continue
to their breeding grounds.
Very large numbers - up to around 70 - are only
present for a couple of days at the most.
The vast majority of the birds
are just refuelling before moving on, but three or four pairs usually stay on.
they will spread across most of England and some into Wales and southern Scotland,
but on their way northwards many of them rest briefly at Shapwick, making it an
ideal spot to watch them in big numbers.
lots more wildlife to watch out for at Shapwick including Roe Deer and Otters.
is the log book for the Mere Hide at Shapwick so check for information on recent
A few hundred years ago the promise of seeing an Otter
wouldn't have been anything special.
River Otter numbers plummeted in the
mid 20th Century due to the loss of habitats and pollution, and the animals only
survived in a few localised populations in East Anglia and South West England.
Otters are making a comeback across Britain, particularly dramatically across
the Somerset Levels.
Four Otter families are now believed to live at Shapwick,
and that's probably as many as the reserve can support.