Blog: Rewilding Somerset’s Wetlands

I was keen to reconnect with nature following another lockdown – to breathe fresh air, sit and listen to the birds, and just stop for a second is good for the soul! I decided to visit one of the gems of the Somerset Levels – RPSB Ham Wall. These wetlands provide a rare opportunity to see how many areas of the Somerset Levels once looked – marshy habitat with reedbeds, bittern, water voles and otters. Set in the shadow of Glastonbury Tor, the wetlands are an amazing place to visit. If you are lucky, you can also see the stunning starling murmuration.

But, as I was exploring the incredible wetlands of the Avalon Marshes, I couldn’t help the feeling that there was something missing. This ecosystem is incomplete. Although it is an incredible site for birds, it is a habitat that is being managed by people to remain in that state. We are missing the dynamic habitats that should be created by absent herbivores – beavers should be foraging the reeds and creating lodges, wild horses and cattle could be creating clearings in the reedbeds, creating open areas and diversity for other species, maybe even Elk wallowing in the waters munching on aquatic plants! There are even missing species amongst the bird life – white tailed eagles foraging over the wetlands looking for wildfowl, white storks and cranes foraging in the grasslands and reedbeds, and even larger birds such a pelicans majestically flying over the wetlands.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Biebrza Marshes in Eastern Poland. It is one of Europe’s largest stretches of marshland and stretches as far as you can see. A maze of channels, pools, reedbeds and wet meadows have been created by natural processes. We saw Elk moving through the landscape, foraging on reedbeds and associated habitats, beavers creating channels and open areas through their foraging activities, wild boar wallowing on the edges. The air thrummed with dragonflies, otters were foraging in the rich waters, and a white tailed eagle flew overhead. It was truly breath taking. It is also inspiration for how the Somerset levels could look. Britain is a built up country, but we can and should be asking for more from our landscapes!

I have a dream that one day this can be created on the Somerset levels, not only supporting a rich, dynamic and exciting ecosystem for nature recovery, but also for people. New enterprises such as tourism, visitor centres, and other businesses could be supported by the new wetlands, creating resilient communities for people to live and work in. It won’t be easy and it will take time, but its never been more urgent to rethink our landscapes. We have a duty to think bigger, better, more joined up, and to reverse the declines in wildlife. We can be the generation to act now and restore nature before it’s too late!

Sir David Attenborough ‘We must rewild the world. Rewilding the world is easier than you think. A century from now our planet could be a wild place again. ‘We have to do what nature has always done. It worked out the secret of life long ago. ‘A species can only survive when everything around is surviving.’ 

Sara King is Rewilding Network Lead at Rewilding Britain, and is lucky enough to be based right here in Somerset.