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The Internationally important Somerset Levels and Moors stretch from the clay-based coastal plains across peat-based Avalon Marshes to the feet of the Mendip and Blackdown Hills.
At the heart of Somerset and giving the County its name, are the internationally important Levels and Moors. Among the lowest, flattest areas in the UK, they were once covered by sea apart from the curious mumps and mounds that rose above them as islands. Somerset is therefore ‘the land of the summer people’ as the rich grazing pastures of the Levels were only accessible in the drier months.
To reach the grasslands from the ‘islands’, prehistoric people built raised wooden tracks, of which there is still evidence today. The most famous is the Sweet Track at Shapwick. The Romans tried managing the Levels but did not have as much success as the monks of Glastonbury. Dutch engineers eventually drained them in the 17th century but thankfully not until after King Alfred had used the marshes to escape the Vikings or English history might have taken a different turn. Still farmed and used for growing willow, the wetlands attract huge numbers of wading birds including the reintroduced Common Crane.
The Polden Ridge cuts across them as do a handful of rivers and numerous smaller waterways.
Sudden and unexpected viewpoints rise mysteriously having once formed islands in a flooded plain.
The result is a unique patchwork landscape steeped in history and brimming with rare wildlife.
As well as supporting a huge array of plant and bird species, the Somerset Levels and Moors are dotted with quaint villages which bear witness to the fact they have been exploited by people since the earliest times.
The Avalon Marshes is home to the world’s oldest known wooden trackway and ancient lake villages.
The second largest haul of Roman coins ever found was discovered here.
In the middle ages the monks from nearby monasteries drained much of the land to farm it.
This is where King Alfred the Great lived and the legends of King Arthur still resonate.
Today the area is mostly grassland and arable with willow grown commercially.
It is a magnet for nature lovers and those with creative and artistic talents who have workshops and galleries here.
With its fabulously rich wildlife it enjoys special protection and supports a number of reserves.
It has the largest lowland population of breeding wading birds and is a great place to hear bittern, see starling murmurations and watch otters.
Often overlooked, the Somerset Levels and Moors offer the chance to relax and unwind; to see rare species of plant, bird and animals under a wide expanse of sky surrounded by tranquil waterscapes.
Off the beaten track it is well served by footpaths and cycle routes as well as outlets for local crafts and produce.
Somerset Levels & Moors
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