For many of us, being beside water is intensely calming and powerfully inspiring. Evidence shows that spending time in and around 'blue' spaces can improve our mood and reduce our stress levels. Simply getting outside for some fresh air and exercise can work wonders on our mental and physical wellbeing. These images reveal some of the joys and surprises which can be found on our nature reserve all year round.This is a photo story of a walk around Steart Marshes, kindly walked, written, photographed and passed on to us by one of our wonderful volunteers, Jenny McCubbin. A version of this story has also appeared in the community newsletter Stockland Gatepost. This photo story takes a closer look at a walk familiar to many in the villages close to the reserve. The route followed was a Steart Circuit, travelling anticlockwise from Otterhampton, via Combwich, up to Steart village and back, on a sunny morning last autumn.Otterhampton Marshes looking towards the Mendips. Cobwebs everywhere, catching the early light.Past Combwich, along the banks of the River Parrett, looking back towards Hill Farm, Otterhampton.‘Sit spot’ at Mendip Hide, looking towards Combwich.Another sit spot close to the car park amongst the rose hips.From the hide, looking towards the River Parrett and, beyond that, Glastonbury. Turning around, looking towards Hinkley Point. From the path looking towards Bridgwater Bay, and beyond that, Wales.
This year we have all enjoyed visiting our local natural spaces, watching the seasons come and go. As the sun weakens and the temperature drops, we often forget about the benefits of the outdoors and hunker down in our cosy homes. Yet winter is a great time to visit your local wetland and explore the sights and sounds on offer. Whatever the weather, there is always something to see and do here at Steart Marshes. Here are some ideas.Watch birds at high tide.The winter months are the best time to see large flocks of migrants, such as dunlin, golden plover and more. See our website for the latest tide tables. Aim for high tides of around 6 metres. Head for the River Parrett and the breach for murmurations and Otterhampton Marsh for flocks of feeding waders.Credit: Nick Wilcox-BrownGo on a sensory walk.Listen to the reeds blowing in the wind, watch the sun rise over the River Parrett, witness the flocks of waders flying over the wetlands, or skim your hand over the tall grasses.Find a puddle and splash about!Venture out in the rain or just afterwards with your wellies and get splashing in the puddles, just like the ducks.Improve your mood.Being beside water is good for our wellbeing. Enjoy a walk along our pathways and look out over our watery spaces.Get creative.Bring a sketchpad and make an impression of your surroundings. Bring crayons and take part in our self-led rubbings trail. See how many species you can spot on our sculpture trail. And admire our giant longhorn!Find a deeper connection.Explore an aspect of nature in depth. Take a closer look at the soil, the grass under your feet, or the rippling water. Examine a feather. Sit and watch or close your eyes and listen. Lie back and watch the clouds pass by.Enjoy a bespoke guided walk.Our friendly volunteers can tailor a guided walk to your interests – whether that’s birds, flora, history or working wetlands. Why not arrange a tour for a loved one as a gift?Get out in daylight.Ward off those low moods and lack of energy which often come with the change in seasons and maximise your time outside in the light.Sign up to volunteer with us.Our wardens lead groups of volunteers in practical work all year round. Or join up to engage with other visitors about the reserve and its wildlife. You can help us to make a difference.Join WWT.Sign up for WWT membership and get free access to all WWT sites in the UK while helping us to protect wetlands and conserve species worldwide.
In celebration of WWT’s 75th anniversary, we decided to run a BioBlitz at Steart Marshes to see if we could find at least 75 species present on the reserve during the first week of November. This gave us a great opportunity to run several events open to visitors and volunteers. We started the ball rolling with a Mammal Signs Meander on a sunny Sunday morning. We found signs of otter and water vole, then spotted a comma butterfly, a migrant hawker dragonfly and a devil’s coach horse beetle. Daubenton’s and pipistrelle bats were also recorded on a sunset stroll the previous evening. One of our wardens led a team of volunteers on a survey for plant species and came back with a list of over 50. So we were already well on our way to our target of 75 different species. During the week we displayed a list of all the bird species spotted on the reserve, many of which were recorded on our High Tide Bird. Our visitors enjoyed the sensory spectacle of the sun rising over the reserve, the wind blowing through the reeds, and flocks of dunlin swooping above the river. We also encountered a Short-Eared Owl and a Merlin as well as significant numbers of ducks and waders. The number of bird species recorded reached over 70. We also ventured below the surface, running a pond dipping session which proved very popular with a few adults, particularly one who caught a large diving beetle! Then the RoAM volunteer group turned up for a half-day session searching for aquatic invertebrates in several different areas of the reserve, resulting in a combined list of over 30 species. The BioBlitz was a fun way of exploring the reserve in a bit more depth, giving us all a chance to share our knowledge and enjoyment of the space with visitors, and is hopefully something we’ll be able to run again during the spring or summer months. If anyone would like a full list of species, we’d be happy to send it out to you. Please get in touch. Thanks very much to all staff and volunteers involved in running and participating in these events.Featured image credit: Nick Wilcox-Brown
The local community, volunteers and staff were invited to help create a sculpture of a longhorn cow with willow artist Sophie Courtier. This is what we produced in just 3 days!
Welcome to our guest blogger, Gemma, who will tell us a bit about what she did and what she learnt during her work experience here at Steart Marshes. My week volunteering at Steart Marshes was enjoyable and eventful! I have come away with new contacts, skills, and outlooks on what the nature reserve really stands for. Some things I found most interesting during my time was how recently the marshes had been created, how the spaces had been adapted to provide new marsh areas for wildlife and the work both volunteers and staff put in to keep the area accessible to the public. The creation of the large-scale habitat restoration project at the Marshes began 7 years ago and since then has become a hotspot for biodiversity by providing habitats for both resident and migratory species. At the beginning of the week WWT Placement Student Adam showed me around and made me feel really welcomed there. He explained how he made wildlife monitoring boxes, taught me about site maintenance duties, and even helped me eagerly take a picture with a toad. On Wednesday, WWT Research Officer Sarah showed a group of the public and local volunteers how to survey ditches for a citizen science survey. We collected and identified invertebrates in large nets. This was to find out whether the ditch was presenting traits of a habitable area via the presence of beneficial species (such as damselfly larvae and caseless caddisflies). The experience was a great example of ways to discover and identify your not-so-typical aquatic invertebrate species and gain an understanding of why their presence is necessary in ditch eco-systems. We also saw a singular newt and some fishes! Then I followed local volunteer Roy on his weekly walk along the outskirts of the marsh to survey butterflies. The surveying included logging which butterfly species we saw in specific segments of the site such as the Small Whites and Meadow Browns. He explained to me how summer butterfly abundance numbers relies on the previous weather conditions during the year, if there were harsher and more unpredictable conditions, this would negatively affect the numbers of butterflies (such as migratory species like the Painted Lady) around at the time of surveying. Throughout the week, there was a much more physical and bigger task to do. The typha and reed plants had overgrown in the marsh areas, so with a large group of volunteers and staff we geared up (by putting on waterproofs I liked to call ‘duck outfits’) to begin pulling it up from the roots. Although a mucky and difficult job, we managed to see lots of ramshorn and pond snails, the odd toad, and even the outer skin of a migrant hawker dragonfly larvae known as an exuvia! Towards the end of the week, WWT Warden Sam took me birdwatching. He explained how to identify different species of wader such as the Redshank and the Pectoral Sandpiper by watching their specific movements to differentiate between bird-types. During his time at WWT he studied bird abundance numbers over a 5-year-period at the Steart Marshes. His results showed which bird species had shown increases and decreases in abundance demonstrating how the marsh had affected their presence over time.Overall, there never seemed to be a dull moment during my week at the reserve (I picked a good week to go!) and the team have helped me to develop new skills in species identification, reserve maintenance, and a better understanding of how different animal and plant species interconnect in wetland environments. I think the experience opened new doors for me in the world of conservation.Thank you! Gemma Bruno @extra_earthyPhotos copyright WWT / Gemma Bruno
WWT Steart Marshes welcomes responsible dog walkers
Senior Research Officer Dr Sarah Davies explains the trials of emergent insect traps on freshwater ponds at WWT Steart Marshes.
At the start of National Volunteers Week June 1 - 7, Steart Marshes, run by the charity The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) has paid tribute to its army of volunteers who helped the site get through the past, difficult year.The first volunteers to return took up engagement roles to speak to visitors, explain changes on site due to Covid-19, and generally inform people about the wildlife and where to see it. From practical tasks like hedge and path maintenance, to surveying birds and butterflies, about half of the 52 volunteers with the charity have so far been able to return to help make sure Steart Marshes came out of the pandemic in as strong a position as possible. At the same time, volunteers have spoken about how their work has helped with their own mental health. At Steart, this includes Somerset-based Richard Foyle (see below)As WWT enters its 75th year, volunteers at all its ten sites across the country, including Steart Marshes, are delighted to be back at work, greeting visitors, helping reserve wardens, guiding tours and all of the many other tasks they carry out.Nicola Stanford, Head of Volunteering at WWT, said the centre was immensely grateful to all its volunteers, including those who carried on working right through lockdowns but also those who have not yet been able to return but have expressed a readiness and willingness to come back when they can.“We really couldn’t have done it without them,” she said. “It has obviously been an incredibly tough year for everyone and Steart Marshes is no exception.“When it comes to things like wildlife you can’t just lock up and go home, so to know we had people all around the country willing to carry on helping where and how they could, even while our own staff were often on furlough and unable to come in, was extremely reassuring.“I really want to pay tribute to all of them both those who have returned and those waiting to come back and say a huge thank you for all the work they have done, both before, during and since the end of the lockdowns over the past year. And as things hopefully start to get back to normal, I can’t wait to see them all back at Steart Marshes”.Steart Marshes volunteers pulling ragwort on the reserve - picture taken pre-pandemicAs well as helping Steart Marshes, many of the volunteers have spoken about how the work they do is also beneficial to their own mental health. WWT recently launched a new scheme called Blue Prescribing which aims to promote wellbeing in people experiencing mental health problems and will start at WWT’s Steart Marshes site in the summer. Dr Jonathan Reeves, WWT’s Principal Research Officer (Health and Wellbeing) said there was growing evidence that being in nature can reduce stress, anxiety and depression.“So many of our volunteers speak about how volunteering with WWT makes them feel better – not just because they feel like they belong to a community of like-minded people but also because being outside, around nature and in particular by wetlands really is a mood-booster,” he said.“This has been particularly important over the last year, so it’s great to know many of our volunteers were able to keep working either between or even in some cases through all the different lockdowns.”The health and wellbeing projects being piloted at Steart Marshes are funded by the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund. The fund is being delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in Project Partnership with Natural England and the Environment Agency.Volunteer case studyLeft to right volunteers Roy Osborne, Richard Foyle and Dick Best, pictured at our last volunteer thank you event before the pandemic.Richard Foyle from Somerset, volunteers at Steart Marshes in Somerset.Richard lives in the small village of Stockland Bristol, right next to WWT’s Steart Marshes. He began volunteering in 2013 before the reserve opened. Now his work involves weekly practical tasks such as planting trees and their aftercare, strimming and drainage work. He is also involved with bird surveys, butterfly transects, saltmarsh plant transects and dragonfly monitoring; and he has led some guided walks on the reserve. He also enjoys supporting university students carrying out their project work.“I was able to do some volunteering during the last lock down,” he said.“I was not very keen to work very closely with others during this time until I had been vaccinated, but the staff were very supportive and did a separate health and safety assessment of me to confirm that I would be able to do work on my own on the reserve.“I was able to plant a lot of trees on the reserve during this period, something of a passion of mine!”Richard said he particularly enjoys the volunteering work as it is helping to create new habitat and he was pleased to be able to make a small contribution to carbon capture through the salt marsh development.“Volunteering makes me feel like I am giving something back,” he said. “I have always had an interest in nature, gained mainly from my grandma and dad. My job was in education so was very busy and based inside.“Volunteering at Steart has enabled me to get involved in something exciting and nature based, it was right on my doorstep and the people have been so friendly and supportive, I am so grateful to them for taking me on board.“The monitoring work I love as it provides scientific data for informing future work (I was a science lecturer so value the chance to be able to contribute in this area). I also love working with university students, I was out this week with a Masters student who is doing some research into eels and one of their parasites - I find it stimulating for me and love finding out more about what they are doing and hoping to achieve.”Living next to Steart Marshes - which stayed open throughout he pandemic - had been particularly beneficial to him over the past year: “I live next to the reserve and I have a dog so we have been able to go onto the reserve most days,” he said.For more information contact: email@example.comVolunteering opportunities: https://www.wwt.org.uk/join-and-support/volunteering/volunteering-opportunities/Corporate volunteering CTA/link for Linked In posts: https://www.wwt.org.uk/join-and-support/corporate-volunteering/The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT)Wetlands are essential for all life, including humankind and yet they are disappearing three times faster than forests. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) is a conservation charity working to save wetlands globally and in the UK for wildlife, people and our planet. WWT runs ten reserves across the UK, managing 3000 hectares of the best wetland habitat in the UK, and providing inspirational experiences to encourage people to value wetlands and the amazing wildlife they support.To find out more visit wwt.org.uk.
Are you passionate about the ways nature can help people? Do you have personal or direct experience of health & well-being issues? Here is an opportunity to contribute your experience and passion to help others make the connection between nature and health. Every Thursday, 11:00am – 1:00pm. FREE to attend online via Microsoft Teams You will be involved in creating an online course that can help support people’s mental health and wellbeing through the natural world, exploring how nature can be important for us to feel healthy and well. We welcome anyone with lived experience of mental health issues, and encourage those from marginalised groups to get in contact. A diverse group of people, representative of the local area is a great way to create something that everyone can feel a part of. 12 people in total, from a variety of life circumstances in the Sedgemoor area of Somerset. This will include 2 representatives from MHF and 2 from WWT. Access to a device with an active internet connection and a camera and microphone is needed for the sessions. You do not need to have any specific software as Teams can be accessed through the web browser and is completely free. To find out more or to get involved, please email Will Freeman on firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 07920 272054. In order to make sure this is right for you, we ask if you can come to a 30 minute precourse chat online. It is important that everyone involved feels comfortable and included and that the process is appropriate for you. There are options for who you can speak with so do not hesitate to ask more about this. PLEASE NOTE: You will need to be willing to commit to the sessions, and to listen to different people’s perspectives, but also to share your own experiences and reflect on these where possible.
One way or another, the covid-19 pandemic has meant that 2020 was a very different year for all of us. This has certainly been the case at Steart Marshes. During these extraordinary times we have managed to stay open throughout and have seen a distinct change in our visitor profile from that seen in previous years. Talking to and observing people on site, it has felt like there have been more families, more cyclists, more people walking to access the site from local villages. Also people from the Bridgwater area saying they have recently discovered Steart Marshes for the first time. It has been great to see an increase in people using the site specifically to enhance their physical and mental health & wellbeing during these difficult times. Spending time in wetlands, or blue space, can be especially beneficial to our wellbeing, improving mood and reducing stress. There is growing evidence that spending time in these blue spaces can be even more beneficial than being in green space. Think of where we often choose to go on a day out… how many people would head to the coast, a lake, a river, a wetland to be by the water? It just makes us feel better! We monitor visitor and vehicle numbers at Steart Marshes, not as absolute figures due to the complexities of routes and multiple entrances to the site, but we can look at trends over time. Our 2020 data shows an increase in visitors passing the people logger, but this is not backed up by an increase in numbers of vehicles using the main car park. This suggested a shift towards greater numbers of local visitors accessing the site on foot and by bike. We also carry out an annual visitor survey. The questions are devised in consultation with our insights team at Slimbridge in order to allow certain comparisons between the 10 WWT sites around the UK. Once we have gathered a sufficient number of responses, the insights team analyse the data and present us with the results. In summary, the Steart Survey 2020 saw: 94% of respondents leaving the site knowing that ‘wetlands are important’A distinct shift towards more families visiting Steart MarshesThe majority of survey respondents were from local postcodes. 63% are frequent visitors (up from 26% in 2017)Dwell time on site has increased from previous yearsBetween 2017 and 2020 the proportion of visitors arriving at the site: 67% from Taunton, 11% from Bristol, 6% from Bath postcode areas by car has reduced from 93% to 77%on foot or by bike has increased from 5% to 19% Interestingly, our survey results mirror what was observed by our peers at Shapwick Heath NNR over the same period, with a particular increase in family visits, local people and cyclists. None of these results are entirely unexpected given the circumstances with the pandemic, but it has been interesting to discover that what we felt from being out and about on the ground, has been backed up by both the visitor data, and the 2020 survey results. It will be interesting to see what happens going forward when we start to bring in visitors from further afield again, yet lose a large number of people currently working and studying from home and popping out for daily exercise at Steart Marshes. Let us know how you’ve been interacting with the site to support your own health and wellbeing on Twitter or Facebook.
Fantastic news! An ambitious new project to safeguard the Somerset coast from the effects of climate change has received a £1.58m grant as part of the UK Government’s new Green Recovery Challenge Fund. The project will focus on creating and restoring 130 hectares (about 105 football pitches) of nature-rich wetland habitat along the Somerset coast. This habitat will help increase flood resilience, improve soil and water quality and help absorb carbon, increasing the robustness of the county’s coastline overall. The project also aims to embed knowledge and skills within local communities so they can continue this work into the future. It is one of the first environmental projects awarded funding from the £40 million pot available through the Green Recovery Challenge Fund. And is one of twenty one projects to have been awarded a larger grant (over £250k - £5m). Forty seven projects have been awarded smaller grants (£50 - £250k). Securing this significant amount of funding early from one of the Government’s new flagship green funding schemes is a great initial step towards promoting the nature-based solutions that wetlands provide and being able to quickly respond to this opportunity has paid off. The proportion of the funding that is being allocated to Steart Marshes will see habitat improvement works undertaken in the three main areas of the site. Identifying and delivering health and wellbeing opportunities within the local community and the writing and provision of training and learning sessions, which will involve practical work and monitoring on the reserve itself. All of this will be undertaken throughout 2021 and reach completion by April 2022. The Somerset coast project will be delivered in partnership with Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group South West (FWAG), Bridgwater & Taunton College (BTC) and Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). The Green Recovery Challenge Fund is a key part of Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan to kick-start nature recovery and tackle climate change. The fund is being delivered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England and the Environment Agency. WWT’s Senior Project Manager for Wetland Landscapes, Tim McGrath said: “The world is facing a climate crisis, a nature crisis and an emerging wellbeing crisis. To combat this, WWT is launching its own Blue Recovery, which proposes the creation and restoration of wetlands as a natural solution to these problems. “Healthy wetlands have multiple benefits for people and wildlife; they store more carbon than forests, they store and slow the flow of water, preventing flooding, they support biodiversity and provide people with an abundance of nature to enjoy, proven to have positive impacts on health. “We are so pleased to be the recipients of such a generous fund to help this work get underway in Somerset, where WWT has had a longstanding presence, centred around the spectacular WWT Steart Marshes.” Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow, said: “These projects will drive forward work across England to restore and transform our landscapes, boost nature and create green jobs, and will be a vital part of helping us to build back greener from coronavirus. “I look forward to working with environmental organisations as these projects help address the twin challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change, while creating and retaining jobs as part of the green recovery.” Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive, National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “Supporting our natural environment is one of the most valuable things we can do right now. All these projects are of huge benefit to our beautiful countryside and wildlife, but will also support jobs, health and wellbeing, which are vitally important as we begin to emerge from the coronavirus crisis.” The government’s forthcoming Environment Bill puts the environment at the centre of policy making to ensure that we have a cleaner, greener and more resilient country for the next generation. The fund is supporting a range of nature conservation and recovery, as well as nature-based solutions projects, which will contribute towards government’s wider 25 Year Environment Plan commitments.
A pair of black-winged stilts have successfully bred three chicks here at WWT Steart Marshes for the very first time.
Even before its completion, the role of WWT Steart Marshes reserve as a demonstration wetland was clear. Recognised as one of the best examples of design and engineering for wetland habitat creation. Ongoing research is providing invaluable evidence of the multiple benefits to be realised from wetland restoration. When the opportunity arises to talk to those who are able to make changes in policy, this evidence is key to bring about change in behaviours, policies and management practices. Many decision makers remain unaware of wetlands and WWT. We need to be strategic in our approach, taking them on a journey on which they become firstly interested, then motivated and finally act on our behalf.On the 7th February, the Environment Minister: Rebecca Pow came to Steart Marshes to learn about how the site is delivering services that benefit people and wildlife. Walking onto the new flood bank and looking over the huge expanse of saltmarsh provided the ideal setting to talk about the huge quantities of carbon research has shown Steart Marshes is locking away every year. Showcasing saltmarshes as vital weapons in the fight against climate change, storing carbon more efficiently than any other natural ecosystem.From left to right: Alys Laver, Site Manager, Rebecca Pow, Environment Minister, Kevin Perberdy, Chief Operating Officer and Tim McGrath, Senior Project Manager. Photo: WWT Tom FewinsWe also talked about the value to improving commercially important fish stocks, such as sea bass found during research surveys. With the food theme continuing, we discussed the reserve’s agricultural management plan as part of a viable farm business, providing opportunities for the production of high-end food products such as saltmarsh beef and lamb. The experience of managing both farm business and biodiversity conservation are being used to model longer-term sustainable adaptation to climate change. With our 25 year vision where threats to wetlands globally have been addressed by people who have been influenced by WWT. With the global climate summit being held in November, and the current Government talking about the use of natural solutions. This timely visit can only add weight to our goals, striving for a future where people are taking an ecosystem services-based approach to managing land and water. Regardless of political persuasion, visits from key MP’s enable us to advocate and realise an overarching vision of a world where healthy wetland nature thrives and enriches lives.
A working wetland provides multiple benefits to people and wildlife, whilst also helping to improve water quality or reduce flood risk. We are showcasing some examples of mini working wetlands around the reserve, and have just installed our latest information signs to highlight these features and explain what they do. We hope to inspire you to have a go at creating something similar at home. If every house had a green roof or a mini wetland, this would create new habitat for wildlife, clean and slow the flow of water, and act to dramatically reduce the run-off entering drainage systems. Why not visit Steart Marshes & search out our newest working wetland signs hidden around the reserve? They include: Wildlife pond next to the toilets (see picture above). This is fed with water from the toilet block roof and creates a habitat for plants and aquatic invertebrates, not forgetting the bees and other insects that stop off for a drink! Water flow is slowed, and the plants take up nutrients, helping to clean the water. If you don’t have much space, a pond can be as small as a tub or bowl sunk into the ground. Planted trough at the Mendip hide. This creates habitat for insects such as bees, and dragonflies, whilst also showcasing some of the aquatic plants which could be used in mini ponds at home. It is fed with water from the roof and acts to slow the flow and clean the water. A trough can be a good alternative to digging a pond.