List of national nature reserves in Somerset

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List of national nature reserves in Somerset is located in Somerset
National nature reserves in Somerset

The ceremonial county of Somerset consists of a non-metropolitan county, administered by Somerset County Council, which is divided into five districts, and two unitary authorities. The districts of Somerset are West Somerset, South Somerset, Taunton Deane, Mendip and Sedgemoor. The two administratively independent unitary authorities, which were established on 1 April 1996 following the breakup of the county of Avon, are North Somerset and Bath and North East Somerset.

National nature reserves in England (NNR) are designated under Part III of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 that are deemed to be of national importance by Natural England as key places for wildlife and natural features in England using section 35(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.[1] They were established to protect the most significant areas of habitat and of geological formations. NNRs are managed on behalf of the nation, many by Natural England themselves, but also by non-governmental organisations, including Avon Wildlife Trust or the Somerset Wildlife Trust, the National Trust, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.[2]

There are 15 national nature reserves in the county. The largest is Bridgwater Bay which has been recognised under the Ramsar Convention and covers 2,639 hectares (6,521 acres) of mud flats, saltmarsh, sandflats and shingle ridges. The smallest is Hardington Moor at 8.7 hectares (21.5 acres) in area. Several of the sites are associated with rivers and low-lying areas of the Somerset Levels. The highest is Dunkery and Horner Wood which covers 1,604 hectares (3,964 acres) of wet and dry heathland, ancient woodland and open grassland on Exmoor including Dunkery Beacvon, the highest point in the county. Ebbor Gorge is important for both biological and geological interest.


Site Photograph District Area[a] Location[b] Map[c] Details[d] Description
Barrington Hill Water trough, Barrington Hill (geograph 4074875).jpg South Somerset 17.8 hectares (44.0 acres) Broadway
50°56′53″N 2°59′49″W / 50.948°N 2.997°W / 50.948; -2.997 (Barrington Hill)
Map Details This site comprises four meadows surrounded by well-established hedges on gently sloping clay-rich soils. It is an outstanding example of a traditionally managed unimproved neutral grassland of a type now rare in Britain. The meadows belong to a type characterised by the widespread occurrence of sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum), crested dog's-tail (Cynosurus cristatus), cowslip (Primula veris) and green-winged orchid (Orchis morio). A total of 74 species of orchids have so far been recorded. This site is one of only three localities in Britain in which the grass Gaudinia fragilis is a prominent feature of the sward.[3]
Bridgwater Bay Mudflats at Combwich.jpg Sedgemoor 2,639 hectares (6,521 acres) Otterhampton
51°10′59″N 3°04′48″W / 51.183°N 3.080°W / 51.183; -3.080 (Bridgwater Bay)
Map Details Bridgwater Bay is on the Bristol Channel, 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) north of Bridgwater at the mouth of the River Parrett and the end of the River Parrett Trail. It consists of large areas of mud flats, saltmarsh, sandflats and shingle ridges, some of which are vegetated. It has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest since 1989,[4] and is designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.[5] In addition to the rivers, Parrett, Brue and Washford several of the man-made drainage ditches, including the River Huntspill, from the Somerset Levels, including the "Pawlett Hams", also drain into the bay.
Dunkery and Horner Wood Dunkery Beacon.jpg West Somerset 1,604 hectares (3,964 acres) Luccombe
51°11′20″N 3°33′32″W / 51.189°N 3.559°W / 51.189; -3.559 (Dunkery and Horner Wood)
Map Details The Dunkery and Horner Wood NNR is one of the largest in England. It includes Dunkery Hill, the highest point on Exmoor and in Somerset, wet and dry heathland, ancient woodland and open grassland. Much of the NNR is within the National Trust-owned Holnicote Estate.[6]
Ebbor Gorge Ebbor Gorge 2.jpg Mendip 47 hectares (116 acres) St Cuthbert Out
51°14′02″N 2°40′55″W / 51.234°N 2.682°W / 51.234; -2.682 (Ebbor Gorge)
Map Details Ebbor Gorge is a limestone gorge. It was donated to the National Trust in 1967 and is now managed by Natural England. The gorge was cut into the Clifton Down Limestone, an example of Carboniferous Limestone, by water. The floor of the gorge is impermeable Millstone Grit and Lower Coal Measures.[7][8] The rare mineral mendipite has also been found.[9] The site was occupied by humans in the Neolithic Era and their tools and flint arrow heads have been discovered, along with pottery from the Bronze Age.[10][11][12] There are also fossils of small mammals from the end of the last ice age. The nature reserve provides a habitat for a variety of flora and fauna, including flowers, butterflies and bats.[13]
Gordano Valley Gordano Valley from Hill Top - - 208937.jpg North Somerset 126 hectares (311 acres) Walton in Gordano
51°27′11″N 2°48′50″W / 51.453°N 2.814°W / 51.453; -2.814 (Gordano Valley)
Map Details A Site of Special Scientific Interest, for ornithological, entomological and stratigraphic interest. Several sites in the valley are managed by the Avon Wildlife Trust as nature reserves. These include; Weston Big Wood, Clapton Moor, Weston Moor and Walton Common. The unimproved wet-meadow communities largely consist of variants of the nationally rare blunt-flowered rush–marsh thistle (Juncus subnodulosus–cirsium palustre), soft/sharp flowered rush–marsh bedstraw (Juncus effusus/acutiflorus–Galium palustre), purple moorgrass–meadow thistle (Molinia caerulea–cirsium dissectum) and crested dog's-tail–common knapweed (Cynosurus cristatus–centaurea nigra) community types. In total over 130 species of flowering plant have been recorded including 3 species of orchids, 21 grasses and 14 sedges. The extensive system of rhynes and field ditches contains a rich flora which includes three nationally scarce species: water parsnip (Sium latafolium), whorled water milfoil (Myriophyllum verticillatum) and fen pondweed (Potamogeton coloratus).[14]
Ham Wall Ham Wall Nature Reserve - - 230999.jpg Mendip 87.27 hectares (215.6 acres) Sharpham
51°09′18″N 2°40′55″W / 51.155°N 2.682°W / 51.155; -2.682 (Ham Wall)
Map Details The Ham Wall national nature reserve, 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) west of Glastonbury, on the Somerset Levels in the valley of the River Brue is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.[15][16] It is part of the Brue Valley Living Landscape conservation project which aims to restore, recreate and reconnect habitat. This new wetland habitat has been established from out peat diggings and now consists of areas of reedbed, wet scrub, open water and peripheral grassland and woodland. Many bird species live on or visit the site including the bearded tit, bittern, Cetti's warbler, hobby and starling.[17]
Hardington Moor Hardingtonmoor.jpg South Somerset 8.7 hectares (21.5 acres) Hardington Mandeville
50°54′50″N 2°41′28″W / 50.914°N 2.691°W / 50.914; -2.691 (Hardington Moor)
Map Details Hardington Moor is an biological Site of Special Scientific Interest between Hardington Mandeville and West Coker, notified in 1994. Hardington Moor national nature reserve covers partly calcareous clay-rich soils on sloping ground and comprises three meadows surrounded by established hedges. The meadows are examples of species-rich unimproved neutral grassland, which is now nationally rare. The rare French oat-grass is very abundant on the site and the fields are home to a wide variety of plant species, most notably adder's tongue, corky-fruited water-dropwort and large numbers of green-winged orchid. Invertebrates found at the site include butterflies such as gatekeeper, small tortoiseshell and common blue. Less commonly seen are large skipper, green-veined white and green hairstreak.[18]
Hawkcombe Woods Homebush Farm, Exmoor - - 7192.jpg West Somerset 98 hectares (242 acres) Porlock
51°12′07″N 3°35′35″W / 51.202°N 3.593°W / 51.202; -3.593 (Hawkcombe Woods)
Map Details Hawkcombe Woods is near Porlock on Exmoor.[19] The 101 hectares (249.6 acres) woodlands are notable for their lichens, heath fritillary butterfly, red wood ant colonies, dead wood invertebrates and ancient pollards.[20] They are part of the North Exmoor Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Huntspill River Huntspill River.jpg Sedgemoor 149 hectares (368 acres) East Huntspill
51°12′29″N 3°00′50″W / 51.208°N 3.014°W / 51.208; -3.014 (Huntspill River)
Map Details The River Huntspill (or Huntspill River) is an artificial river, in the Somerset Levels. It was built in 1940 to supply process water to ROF Bridgwater, and has resulted in reduced flooding of the lower Brue Valley. Huntspill Sluice at the river's western end, also known as West Huntspill Sluice, separates it from the River Parrett. A stretch of the river, from Gold Corner to Huntspill Sluice (excluding the Cripps River), is a national nature reserve. The NNR is managed by the Environment Agency. The river discharges into the River Parrett, just south of Highbridge which then flows into Bridgwater Bay.[21] Public access to the site is restricted.
Leigh Woods Uk bristol lw2.jpg North Somerset 64 hectares (158 acres) Leigh Woods
51°27′47″N 2°38′20″W / 51.463°N 2.639°W / 51.463; -2.639 (Leigh Woods)
Map Details Leigh Woods is an area of woodland on the south-west side of the Avon Gorge, close to the Clifton Suspension Bridge, within North Somerset opposite the English city of Bristol and north of the Ashton Court estate, of which it formed a part. In 1909 part of the woodland was donated to the National Trust by George Alfred Wills, to prevent development of the city beside the gorge following the building of the Leigh Woods suburb. Areas not owned by the National Trust have since been taken over by the Forestry Commission. It is included in the Avon Gorge Site of Special Scientific Interest,[22][23] Rare trees include multiple species of Sorbus with at least nine native and four imported species. Bristol rockcress (Arabis scabra) which is unique to the Avon Gorge can be seen flowering in April; various species of orchids and western spiked speedwell (Veronica spicata) are common in June and July.
Rodney Stoke Mendip valley from Stoke Woods.jpg Mendip 51 hectares (126 acres) Rodney Stoke
51°15′11″N 2°43′44″W / 51.253°N 2.729°W / 51.253; -2.729 (Rodney Stoke)
Map Details Rodney Stoke is a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest, just north of the village of Rodney Stoke in the Mendip Hills. Part of the site is a national nature reserve and part a Nature Conservation Review Woodland site. This site supports a mosaic of ancient semi-natural broadleaved woodland, scrub and species-rich unimproved grassland. Two nationally rare plants occur at Rodney Stoke: purple gromwell (Lithospermum purpurocaeruleum) and the endemic whitebeam (Sorbus anglica). The site supports a diverse fauna. Badgers (Meles meles) are common and two or three setts are occupied each year. Noctule bats (Nyctalus noctula) and pipistrelle bats (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) roost in Big Stoke. Breeding birds include buzzard (Buteo buteo) and spotted flycatcher (Muscicapa striata). Small enclosures and tall hedges provide sheltered conditions that are ideal for many species of invertebrate. Butterflies are well represented with marbled white (Melanargia galathea), purple hairstreak (Quercusia quercus), brown argus (Aricia agestis) and grayling (Hipparchia semele).[24] General access is only via the one footpath across the site.
Shapwick Heath Shapwickheath.jpg Sedgemoor 509 hectares (1,258 acres) Shapwick
51°09′32″N 2°48′50″W / 51.159°N 2.814°W / 51.159; -2.814 (Shapwick Heath)
Map Details Shapwick Heath is a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest and national nature reserve[25] between Shapwick and Westhay. It is part of the Brue Valley Living Landscape conservation project. Shapwick Heath, part of the Avalon Marshes in the Somerset Levels Wetlands, and managed as a national nature reserve by Natural England, is a former raised bog lying in the basin of the River Brue. The site supports a diverse community of terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates. National rarities are the greater silver diving beetle (Hydrophilus piceus) and the lesser silver diving beetle (Hydrochara caraboides) which is now confined nationally to the Brue Basin Peat Moors.[26]
Somerset Levels Rhyne pointing towards Moorlinch Church - - 1706746.jpg Sedgemoor 463 hectares (1,144 acres) Moorlinch
51°07′16″N 2°52′55″W / 51.121°N 2.882°W / 51.121; -2.882 (Somerset Levels)
Map Details The Somerset Levels national nature reserve covers several areas of the wider Somerset Levels. The specific sites include the Moorlinch SSSI, Southlake Moor and part of King's Sedgemoor. The habitats covered are open water and lowland grassland which are frequented by resident and visiting birds.[27] The water table is high for most of the year with frequent winter flooding from high ground and surface water remaining on many fields throughout the winter and early spring. Moorlinch contains a good proportion of botanically rich ditch systems.[28] Public access is restricted.
Tarr Steps Woodland Tarr Steps 02.jpg West Somerset 33.4 hectares (82.5 acres) Winsford
51°04′37″N 3°37′05″W / 51.077°N 3.618°W / 51.077; -3.618 (Tarr Steps Woodland)
Map Details Owned by Exmoor National Park Authority, Tarr Steps Woodland national nature reserve covers 33 hectares of the River Barle valley. This is mainly sessile oak (Quercus petraea) woodland, with beech (Fagus), ash, sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), hazel (Corylus), blackberry (Rubus), bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and honeysuckle (Lonicera).[29] It is internationally significant[30] for the mosses, liverworts and lichens which flourish in the cool damp conditions.[31][32] Much of the woodland was once coppiced, primarily to provide charcoal for the local iron smelting industry. The river and the valley woodlands are part of the Barle Valley Site of Special Scientific Interest and abound with wildlife, ranging from red deer to dormice, including the rare barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus) and otter that feed along the unpolluted and fast-flowing river.[33]
Westhay Moor Peat bog, Westhay Moor Nature Reserve (geograph 2652283).jpg Mendip 105 hectares (259 acres) Meare
51°11′49″N 2°46′52″W / 51.197°N 2.781°W / 51.197; -2.781 (Westhay Moor)
Map Details Westhay Moor is a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest and notified as part of the Somerset Levels and Moors Special Protection Area under the EU Birds Directive and as a Ramsar Site.[34] The low-lying swampy area of Westhay Moor has had peat laid down over older rocks for the last 10,000 years. Peat extraction on the Somerset Levels has occurred since the area was first drained by the Romans.[35] Measures to improve the drainage were carried out in the Middle Ages largely by Glastonbury Abbey.[36] In the 17th and 18th centuries further drainage work was undertaken including digging a series of rhynes, or ditches and larger drainage canals.[37][38][39] Peat extraction peaked in the 1960s but has since declined.[40][41] The geology of the moor and prolonged peat extraction has provided a unique environment which provides a habitat for a range of flora and fauna.[42] Much of the nature reserve managed by the Somerset Wildlife Trust is based around abandoned peatworkings which have now become flooded.[43][44][45] It is particularly noted for the millions of starlings which congregate at the site.[46][47][48]

See also


  1. ^ Unless specified otherwise, the area is taken from the MAGIC map of each site. (Click on the identify icon (i) in the "Feature Tools" and then click on the site.)
  2. ^ The location is a central point within the site.
  3. ^ The maps link to the UK Government MAGIC mapping system.
  4. ^ Details are on the pages on each site in the Natural England listing of national nature reserves in the county.


  1. ^ "Protected or designated areas". Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and Natural England. Retrieved 4 August 2015. 
  2. ^ "National Nature Reserves in England". Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and Natural England. Retrieved 4 August 2015. 
  3. ^ "Barrington Hill Meadows" (PDF). English Nature. Retrieved 5 August 2015. 
  4. ^ "Bridgwater Bay SSSI citation sheet" (PDF). Sites of Special Scientific Interest. English Nature. Retrieved 5 August 2015. 
  5. ^ "Bridgwater Bay NNR". National Nature Reserves. Natural England. Retrieved 14 November 2010. 
  6. ^ "Dunkery and Horner Wood". Somerset's National Nature Reserves. Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and Natural England. Retrieved 5 August 2015. 
  7. ^ "Wookey Hole and Ebbor Gorge". British Geological Survey. Retrieved 22 December 2013. 
  8. ^ Donovan, D.T. (1988). "The late pleistocene sequence at Wells, Somerset" (PDF). Proceedings of the University of Bristol Speleological Society. 18 (2): 241–257. 
  9. ^ Toulson, Shirley (1984). The Mendip Hills: A Threatened Landscape. Victor Gollanz Ltd. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-575-03453-2. 
  10. ^ Lewis, Jodie (1998). "The Everton flint collection in Wells Museum" (PDF). Proceedings of the University of Bristol Speleological Society. 21 (2): 141–148. 
  11. ^ Brown, Graham. "Dispersed settlements on the southern Mendip escarpment. The earthwork evidence" (PDF). Research Department Report Series no 72-2008. English Heritage. Retrieved 22 December 2013. 
  12. ^ "Ebbor Gorge NNR". Natural England. Retrieved 19 May 2014. 
  13. ^ Toulson, Shirley (1984). The Mendip Hills: A Threatened Landscape. Victor Gollanz Ltd. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-575-03453-2. 
  14. ^ "Gordano Valley SSSI citation" (PDF). Natural England. Retrieved 7 January 2012. 
  15. ^ "Ham Wall". The RSPB. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  16. ^ "Ham Wall NNR". Natural England. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  17. ^ "The RSPB: Ham Wall: Star species". The RSPB. Retrieved 5 August 2015. 
  18. ^ "Hardington Moor NNR". Natural England. Retrieved 31 January 2010. 
  19. ^ "Hawkcombe Woods NNR". Natural England. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  20. ^ "Proposed National Nature Reserves at Hawkcombe and Tarr Steps" (PDF). Exmoor National Park. 2002. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 November 2008. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  21. ^ "River Huntspill". Somerset Rivers. Retrieved 22 August 2015. 
  22. ^ "Avon Gorge SSSI" (PDF). Natural England. Retrieved 7 January 2012. 
  23. ^ "Leigh Woods NNR". Natural England. Retrieved 16 May 2015. 
  24. ^ "Rodney Stoke" (PDF). English Nature. Retrieved 20 July 2006. 
  25. ^ "Shapwick Heath NNR". Natural England. Retrieved 31 January 2010. 
  26. ^ "Shapwick Heath" (PDF). English Nature. Retrieved 19 August 2006. 
  27. ^ "Southlake Moor" (PDF). English Nature. Retrieved 21 August 2006. 
  28. ^ "Moorlinch" (PDF). English Nature. Retrieved 17 August 2006. 
  29. ^ "Tarr Steps and the Exmoor National Park". Everything Exmoor. Retrieved 28 August 2015. 
  30. ^ "Tarr Steps and the Exmoor National Park". Everything Exmoor. Retrieved 26 October 2014. 
  31. ^ "Dulverton to Tarr Steps" (PDF). Exmoor National Park. Retrieved 28 August 2015. 
  32. ^ "Tarr Steps Woods". Exmoor National Park. Retrieved 28 August 2015. 
  33. ^ "Woods get conservation accolade". BBC. Retrieved 28 August 2015. 
  34. ^ "Westhay Moor NNR". Natural England. Retrieved 31 January 2010. 
  35. ^ "'Introduction', A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 8: The Poldens and the Levels". A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 8. Victoria County History. pp. 1–7. Retrieved 4 November 2008. 
  36. ^ Bulleid, L.R.C.P., F.S.A.,, Arthur; Harold St. George Gray, M.A., F.S.A., (1948). The Meare Lake Village. Taunton: pub. privately. pp. 1–14. Archived from the original on 17 February 2012. 
  37. ^ Williams, Michael (2009). The Draining of the Somerset Levels. Cambridge University Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0521106856. 
  38. ^ Siraut, M. C.; Thacker, T. H.; Williamson, Elizabeth. "'Parishes: Meare', in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 9, Glastonbury and Street". British History Online. Victoria County Histories. Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  39. ^ Havinden, Michael (1982). The Somerset Landscape. The making of the English landscape. London: Hodder and Stoughton. pp. 161–162. ISBN 0-340-20116-9. 
  40. ^ "Meare land owners have lost the right to dig peat after 45 years". Central Somerset Gazette. 24 June 2014. Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  41. ^ "Peat extraction rights revoked at Westhay Moor, Glastonbury". Mineral Planning. Retrieved 8 February 2015. (registration required (help)). 
  42. ^ "Westhay Moor" (PDF). English Nature. Retrieved 22 August 2006. 
  43. ^ "Westhay Moor National Nature reserve". Wildlife Extra. Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  44. ^ "Somerset's National Nature Reserves". Natural England. Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  45. ^ Ratcliffe, Derek A. (1977). A Nature Conservation Review: The Selection of Biological Sites of National Importance to Nature Conservation in Britain, Volume 2. Cambridge University Press. p. 216. ISBN 9780521214032. 
  46. ^ "Exploring Westhay Moor". BBC. Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  47. ^ "Westhay Moor Nature Reserve". Somerset Wildlife Trust. Retrieved 24 April 2015. 
  48. ^ "Westhay Moor". Taunton Local Group. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
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