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Somerset Wetlands National Nature Reserve declared

Updated: Apr 14, 2023

England’s second ‘super’ National Nature Reserve (NNR) has been declared in Somerset by Natural England on the 70th anniversary of the creation of national nature reserves.

  • The Somerset Wetlands National Nature Reserve (NNR) is England’s third largest NNR at 6,140ha

  • The declaration launches the Festival of National Nature Reserves summer programme to celebrate 70 years of NNRs

  • Landmarks like Burrow Mump and Steart Marshes join the ‘jewels in nature’s crown’

The Somerset Wetlands NNR has absorbed the six reserves on the Somerset Levels and Moors and added 56% more land to the area occupied by the original NNRs. It will be managed by Natural England, Environment Agency, National Trust, RSPB, Somerset Wildlife Trust and new partners The Hawk and Owl Trust and Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. Becoming England’s third largest NNR, the Somerset Wetlands is 6,140ha and adds landmarks like Burrow Mump, Catcott Lows and Steart Marshes to the list of locations that already enjoyed NNR status like Shapwick Heath, Ham Wall and Bridgwater Bay. A rich variety of habitats lie within the NNR – wet grassland, saltmarsh and intertidal mudflats which are home to many diverse species. Highlights include:

  • A third of the UK’s bittern population, a large marsh bird of the heron family; avocets, black-and-white waders which bred in Somerset in 2012 for the first time in more than 150 years and new colonisers like the great white egret, which bred for the first time in Somerset and the UK ten years ago.

  • 19 species of dragonflies including a ‘Merited Site of National Importance’ by the British Dragonfly Society.

  • Round-leaved sundew – a carnivorous plant whose original habitat was the peatlands before drainage and farming.

NNRs are the most important places for nature in England. For the past 70 years they have been a haven for species, habitat and geology. Now they are at the heart of the growing Nature Recovery Network, too. The declaration of the Somerset Wetlands NNR coincides with the date NNRs were established on 19 May 1952. Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England, said: “The creation of this very large National Nature Reserve is an important moment for nature recovery in England. This is not least because it presents a practical demonstration of what can be done by working in partnership across the landscape at scale to reverse nature’s decline. Natural England intends to encourage other projects with similar ambition. “Seventy years from the creation of our first National Nature Reserves in England, these wonderful places are needed now more than ever, as we face the challenges of global warming, wildlife decline and reconnecting people with the natural world.” The announcement demonstrates how the Government is taking action to deliver on its environmental ambitions, including the legally binding target set out in the 2021 Environment Act to halt wildlife decline by 2030. All the 219 NNRs in England have a common goal of nature conservation and recovery. ‘Super’ NNRs like Somerset Wetlands and its predecessor, Purbeck Heaths in Dorset, are the next generation of NNRs, achieving the same goals but on a much bigger scale. The ambition is to effect landscape-level changes to tackle the climate, nature and wellbeing crises through partnership working as well as helping create a wonderful wildlife destination for visitors and residents, which benefits the local economy. Georgia Stokes, CEO of Somerset Wildlife Trust (SWT), said: “The Somerset Wetlands NNR represents a shift in approach and a scaling up of ambition and action in a low-lying county that’s hugely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. “By joining up land in this way, we can put a significant proportion of the county into recovery for nature and climate - from inland wetland reserves all the way to Somerset’s coast – rebuilding ecosystems and restoring the land's ability to capture and store carbon and achieve real gains for climate and biodiversity for future generations.” Dr James Robinson, Director of Conservation at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), said: “The beautiful, shore-side wetlands at WWT Steart Marshes not only support an incredibly rich array of wildlife, but are also a highly effective carbon sink which research shows store 10,000 tonnes of carbon each year. “Including WWT Steart Marshes in the new NNR recognises the site’s importance in helping to combat the nature and climate crises and its role as an ‘outdoor laboratory’ in helping to find solutions to these pressing issues.”

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