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North Somerset Wetland Programme

Read about problem non-native plants

  Land Yeo river in Tickenham

aquatic invertebrate surveying

  great silver water beetle, photo (c) Aseda
great silver water beetle (Hydrophilus piceus) - Aseda

The North Somerset Levels and Moors is an extensive area of low-lying wetland adjacent to the Severn Estuary between the Mendip Hills in the south and Bristol to the north. It is an area rich in irreplaceable natural and historic heritage.

It contains many habitats and features which are important for wildlife:

  • Grazing marsh is the name given to wet grassland criss-crossed by drainage channels. It is recognised as a nationally important habitat in view of the large areas lost during the last century. It is important for many species of wetland birds including snipe and lapwings. The rare greater horseshoe bat can be found hunting for insects on the Levels and Moors.
  • Mudflats and saltmarsh along the shore of the Severn Estuary are recognised as habitats of international importance. The Estuary is also recognised for its large flocks of overwintering wildfowl and waders.
  • The network of ditches (some of which known locally as rhynes) provide habitats for a rich variety of invertebrates and plants including many rare aquatic species. The area is a frontier for recovering otter populations expanding from their strongholds in the South West.
  • The extensive network of hedgerows provide feeding and shelter corridors for small mammals and pollinators, which in turn benefit birds of prey.
  • Old orchards are historic landscape features and can be important habitats for birds and invertebrates.


The Somerset Levels and Moors is a landscape largely created by human activity.

The Romans constructed the first artificial flood defences to keep out the tides of the Severn Estuary, and created a network of inland channels to drain large areas of floodplain marsh. This expanded the agricultural potential of the levels and, although engineered, it is now in these drainage channels that the remnant rich marshland biodiversity remains.

The area retains evidence of Roman, Iron Age and Medieval settlements and has important archaeological features.

Survey and Monitoring

The project delivers a busy survey programme that enables us to better understand the biodiversity on the North Somerset Levels and Moors. The focus of the project to Spring 2014 is to assess the invertebrate and plant communities of the ditches and surrounding wetland. The surveys will update local records as well as identify areas that may be more vulnerable and in need of restoration.

We are also investigating water quality across some areas to get a better understanding of how nutrients travel through our intricate networks of rivers, rhynes and ditches.

Working with Landowners

We rely on local knowledge and need the help of farmers and landowners to better understand the wildlife in this region.

Farmers have a vested interest in the ecology of their land - the programme can provide free advice and help with wildlife-friendly management techniques that aim to bring maximum benefits to species and ecosystems, whilst minimising impacts on day-to-day farming practices.

Environmental Stewardship was launched in 2005 and provides financial incentives for landowners to undertake wildlife sensitive management (for example, by creating buffer strips along rhynes and managing hedgerows sympathetically). To encourage a wide uptake of the scheme on the Levels and Moors the project provides a free support service for landowners entering, or already in, stewardship.

FundingEsmee Fairbairn Foundation

The North Somerset Wetland Programme is primarily funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

We are very grateful for the support of local councils who have awarded grants to the project:

Portishead Town Council (awarded Autumn 2011)

Yatton Parish Council (awarded Summer 2011)

We have also been working on behalf of the Environment Agency looking at water quality across Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on the levels and moors.


North Somerset Wetland Programme leaflet (pdf file)

Map of the North Somerset Levels and Moors (pdf file)

Wetland bird leafet (A5 folded)


Dr Kate Pressland (Senior Project Officer)

E-mail the North Somerset Wetland Programme, or telephone 0117 980 0392.

NSWP illustration by Mike hughes