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17 September 2014
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Shapwick Heath

Wetland wonderland

Shapwick Heath c/o English Nature

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.

Wetland wonders at Shapwick.
Photo c/o Natural England

The whole area is home to an exceptional array of wildlife including birds of prey, deer and otters.

Peat cuttings

Pet cuttings c/o English NatureShapwick 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.

Spring Hobby

Hobby c/o PA ImagesOne 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.

This 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.

After 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.

Eventually 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.

Wildlife wonders

OtterThere's lots more wildlife to watch out for at Shapwick including Roe Deer and Otters.

This is the log book for the Mere Hide at Shapwick so check for information on recent wildlife sightings.

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.

But 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.



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