Corporate report

Somerset's National Nature Reserves

Published 31 October 2008

Barrington Hill

Barrington Hill NNR is made up of 4 meadows of unimproved, species-rich neutral grassland. This is a habitat rarely found in England.

Main habitats: grassland

Features of interest

In spring, green-winged orchid are particularly plentiful throughout the meadows. Other orchids regularly recorded include the early purple, common twayblade and common spotted varieties. The best time to visit is between early May and early June.

The site is particularly notable for its abundance of rare French oat-grass, a nationally scarce plant and major constituent of the grassland.

The hedgerows (some with large oaks) are also home to a wide range of birds, small mammals and insects. Local butterflies include common blue, meadow brown, speckled wood, brimstone and orange tip.

To maintain the grassland, a late hay cut is taken from each field in July or August. The aftermath growth is then grazed with cattle and/or sheep. Hedgerows are left to grow uncut for a few years to provide habitat for small mammals and birds. A section of hedge is laid each year.


The nearest station is Taunton.

Bus services run from Taunton along the A358 to local villages.

Access to the site is by minor roads from the A358. The entrance to the site is located near Barrington Hill Farm on the minor road from Bickenhall to Horton village.


For more information contact Natural England Enquiries, tel. 0300 060 3900 or email

Bridgwater Bay

Bridgwater Bay NNR is an internationally important feeding and roosting site for many waterfowl and wading birds.

Main habitats: intertidal mudflats, saltmarsh, sandflats and shingle ridges

As the vast majority of the reserve is intertidal, the mudflats can be extremely dangerous. Please follow safety recommendations highlighted on signs throughout the reserve at all times.

Features of interest

Bridgwater Bay NNR contains one of the biggest intertidal mudflats in Britain as well as the largest area of salt marsh in Somerset. Around 200 bird species have been recorded at the reserve and flocks of up to several thousand birds can be spotted at the busiest times of year.

The large tidal range of the Bristol Channel exposes huge mudflats and salt marshes, which are teeming with microscopic animal and plant life. These support millions of larger creatures such as shrimp, shellfish and worms, the main diet of the many wading birds and wildfowl that can be seen on the site.

The reserve is of international importance as the second largest European moulting ground for shelduck, with up to 2000 birds present each July. The site also supports nationally important numbers of wintering dunlin, teal and wigeon as well as large numbers of curlew and grey plover.

Avocet bred on the reserve in 2012 for the first time since the species became extinct in Somerset during the 1940s.

The reed beds support numerous small birds such as reed and sedge warbler whilst skylark nest on adjacent common land. At low tide oystercatcher and turnstone feed on exposed shingle whilst many birds of prey including short-eared owl, harriers and peregrine hunt over the peninsula.

Whilst most of the reserve is below high tide there are some smaller areas that have been colonised by interesting plant communities. Notable species include rock sea-lavender, sea radish, tree mallow, Ray’s knotgrass and sea radish.

See the site information leaflet for more details.


The nearest train station is Bridgwater.

Bus services from Bridgwater are provided by First Group. Some routes run along the A39 and serve local villages.

Access is along minor roads from the A39 (M5). There is a car park near the reserve at Steart village and non-designated parking areas near the coastline.

The reserve can also be accessed on the River Parrett Trail, which follows the river from its source to the Bristol Channel and passes through Bridgwater. Much of the coastline within the western part of the reserve is accessible via a waymarked public footpath.


For more information about the reserve contact site staff by telephone: 01458 860 120 or email:

Dunkery and Horner Wood

One of the largest NNRs in England, Dunkery and Horner Wood has a variety of habitats: high moorland with internationally important wet and dry heathland; steeply sloping combe sides with grassland and bracken and ancient woodland.

Main habitats: woodland and moorland

Management: Dunkery and Horner Wood is owned and managed by the National Trust. The majority of the reserve is within the grounds of the Holnicote Estate.

Features of interest

Further information about the NNR, its wildlife and how to visit can be found on National Trust’s Holnicote Estate web page.


National Trust

Telephone: 01823 451587 or email:

Ebbor Gorge

Ebbor Gorge NNR is a largely wooded site occupying a prominent position on the southern escarpment of the Mendip Hills.

Main habitats: woodland

Ebbor Gorge sits within the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is part of the Mendip Woodlands Special Area of Conservation.

Features of interest

The reserve is cut into 2 valleys: Hope Wood Valley, which contains an active stream, and the dry, limestone Ebbor Gorge.

The woodlands are mostly ash, but also include oak, wych elm, field maple, whitebeam, beech, hornbeam and hazel. The humidity in Hope Wood encourages the growth of ferns and funghi. Over 250 species of mosses, liverworts and lichens have been recorded on site, many rare ones.

In the spring bluebells, wood anemone and dogs mercury cover the woodland floor alongside a wide variety of bryophytes, including the rare Bryum canariense and very rare Amblystegiella confervoides.

Small areas of grassland also occur on some of the limestone outcrops and plateaus of the reserve. Grazed by rabbits, these important pockets support varieties of short grass and herbs including common rock-rose, fairy flax, marjoram, wild thyme, common milkwort and quaking grass.

The mixed age of the woodland means the forest canopy has many levels, which encourages many species of butterfly, including the nationally scarce white-letter hairstreak. Other butterfly species such as the chalkhill blue and brown argus have been recorded on the limestone grassland. Rare lesser and greater horseshoe bats hibernate and roost in the site’s cave systems. These were formed over millennia as rainwater slowly dissolved the subsurface limestone.


Cyclists can reach the reserve from the nearby Route 3 of the Sustrans National Cycle Network.

The Monarch’s Way and Mendip Way hiking trails also pass near the reserve.

The nearest stations are Highbridge and Burnham and Castle Cary.

Bus services run to Wells and Wookey Hole.

Follow signs for Wookey Hole from the A371 in Wells. From Wookey Hole, follow the small minor road towards Priddy. The reserve car park is situated about 1 mile up the hill from Wookey Hole. There is a 6 and a half foot height barrier to the car park.


For more information about the reserve, to discuss school visits or volunteering opportunities contact the reserve team by telephone 01458 860 120 or email

Ham Wall

Ham Wall National Nature Reserve is an internationally important wetland site and one of the largest reed beds in southern England. Restored from old peat workings the site contains reed beds, wet scrub, open water, grassland and woodland. These support a wealth of wildlife including bittern, marsh harrier, water vole and otter.

Main habitats: peatland

Management: Ham Wall NNR is owned and managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)

Features of interest:

Further information about the NNR, its wildlife and how to visit can be found on the RSPB’s Ham Wall web page.



Telephone: 01458 860494 or email:

Hardington Moor

Hardington Moor NNR is made up of 3 meadows of species-rich grassland surrounded by established hedges. These feature more than 100 higher plant species, making the site one of the finest remaining examples of neutral grassland in England.

Main habitats: grassland

Features of interest

The nationally scarce French oat-grass is common throughout the reserve. Large numbers of green-winged orchid and adder’s tongue fern can be seen. Other orchids regularly recorded include common spotted, pyramidal, common twayblade, early purple, southern marsh, autumn ladies tresses and greater butterfly.

Butterflies seen on the site include the large skipper, green-veined white, green hairstreak, gatekeeper, common blue and tortoiseshell.


The site is near regional Route 30 (South Somerset Cycle Road) of the Sustrans National Cycle Network and close to the junction with National Route 26.

The Monarch’s Way and the Liberty Trail both pass near the reserve.

The nearest station is Yeovil.

Local bus services run from Yeovil along the A30.

Hardington Moor is 2.5 miles southwest of Yeovil, off the A30. The reserve is next to Coker Hill Lane from Hardington Mandeville to West Coker.


For more information about the reserve or to discuss volunteering opportunities contact the reserve team on 07810 297886

Hawkcombe Woods

The clean, moist air and sheltered valley of Hawkcombe Woods NNR make these woodlands particularly rich in wildlife and offer a good habitat for a wide range of lichens, mosses and bryophytes.

Main habitats: woodland

Area: about 100 ha

Management: Hawkcombe Woods NNR is owned and managed by the Exmoor National Park Authority (ENPA)

Features of interest:

For information on the wood, its wildlife, vegetation and location, visit the ENPA’s web page on Hawkcombe Wood NNR.


Exmoor National Park Authority (ENPA)

Telephone: 01398 323 665 or email:

Huntspill River

This artificial river, dug in 1940 to provide water for a royal ordnance factory, holds a large stock of coarse fish, is home to otters and is a breeding area for barn owls.

Main habitats: woodland, open water, lowland grassland

Management: Huntspill River NNR is owned and managed by the Environment Agency.

No formal public rights of way cross the site. For access details contact the Environment Agency’s North Wessex Team on 08708 506 506.

Features of interest

Westwards the site extends as far as the estuary of the River Parrett, and eastward as far as its junction with the Cripps River, 2.5 kilometres north east of the village of Woolavington

In the winter the Huntspill is used to clear flood water from agricultural land in the Brue valley, and in the summer it is filled by water from local peat moors. At its western end the Huntspill enters the Bridgwater Bay NNR.

Most of the grassland on the banks of the river is leased for haymaking, or grazing by cattle and sheep. With its large population of coarse fish, the reserve is leased to a local angling association.

Artificial holts (homes) have been built for otters and boxes for barn owls, who use the nearby grassland as a hunting ground.

Willow and scrub are being planted in some areas to create a more natural-looking landscape, provide new habitats and increase diversity.

With the remains of Romano-British salt works found on site, the area is of some archeological interest.


A number of roads cross the Huntspill, the three largest being the M5, A38 and B3141.

The nearest train station is in Bridgwater.

Local bus services are provided by First Group.

Rodney Stoke

Rodney Stoke NNR is an ash/lime woodland on the southern scarp of the Mendip Hills.

Main habitats: woodland, grassland

A public footpath crosses the reserve at Jessie Weeks field, but access beyond this point is by permit only.

Features of interest

The woodlands are mostly broadleaved trees and the grassland is rooted in shallow soil atop limestone rock.

Many plants on the reserve are characteristic of ancient woodlands, such as wood anemone, nettled-leaved bellflower, meadow saffron and wood spurge. The nationally rare purple gromwell can also be spotted in the woodlands. Continued small scale coppicing and maintenance encourages these rare plants to flourish.

Pipistrelle and noctule bats roost in the woods and 46 species of breeding birds have been recorded ,including buzzards and spotted flycatchers.

Conservation grazing of the grassland encourages species such as early-purple orchid, birds foot trefoil, marjoram, rock rose and salad burnet. The many flowers support a range of insects, including many butterfly species such as marbled white, purple hairstreak, brown argus and grayling.


The nearest train is Weston-super-Mare.

Bus services run between Weston-super-Mare and Wells, stopping at Rodney Stoke.

The reserve is next to Rodney Stoke village on the A371, 5 miles north west of Wells. There is no public car park for the reserve and parking isn’t possible on the small roads leading to the reserve.

Two major trails pass near the reserve, the Mendip Way and the Samaritans Way, a trail from Bristol to Lynton.


For more information about the reserve (including access), to discuss school visits or volunteering opportunities contact the reserve team by telephone 01458 860120 or email

Shapwick Heath

Located at the heart of the Somerset Levels and Moors, Shapwick Heath NNR has a variety of habitats, including wildflower meadows, ditches, dens, damp fern woods and open water surrounded by reed beds.

Main habitats: peatland and reed beds

Features of interest

Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve is managed by Natural England and covers over 500 hectares at the heart of the Somerset Levels and Moors.

From November to February, Shapwick Heath is one of the best places in England to see huge flocks of starlings come to roost in winter. For further information call the Starling Hotline (07866 554142).

There is also a spring migration of hobbies arriving from tropical Africa.

Around 64 different species of birds nest here, including Cetti’s warbler and great-crested grebes, while dragonflies and over 27 species of butterfly abound in the summer. These include the silver-washed fritillary, purple hairstreak and orange-tip, while the path to Meare Hide is the best place to see the large and impressive white admiral.

Over 24 different mammals have also been seen at Shapwick, including water voles, lesser horseshoe bats and, of course, otters.

Habitats include lush green wildflower meadows; still, dark ditches; damp, secretive fens, shady, wet fern woods; and open water, fringed with rustling reedbeds and Shapwick is also the location of the Neolithic Sweet Track, the oldest man-made routeway in Britain.

See the site visitor leaflet for more details.


The reserve is close to National Route 3 of the Sustrans National Cycle Network. There are cycle racks at both main entrances to the reserve.

Public transport access to Shapwick Heath is very limited. For information, see the Traveline South West website.

From J23 on the M5 take the A39 Bridgwater to Glastonbury road. After 6 miles take the minor road left, signed Shapwick. Enter Shapwick Village and at the church continue north, following the brown tourist sign for Shapwick Heath NNR.

There is very little parking available at any of the sites; follow any parking instructions given and avoid stopping on narrow verges or blocking gateways.

There is some parking at both the Avalon Marshes Centre, on Shapwick Road, near Westhay, or the Ashcott Corner car park, near the Railway Inn, on the Ashcott to Meare Road.


For more information about the reserve, to discuss school visits or volunteering opportunities contact the reserve team by telephone 01458 860120 or email

Somerset Levels

The NNR is currently closed to the public.

Main habitats: open water, lowland grassland

The NNR is closed because either:

  • the site is unsafe
  • our tenure of the land does not allow public access
  • the site is so fragile that any form of access would damage its habitats and/or wildlife


For more information contact Natural England Enquiries, tel. 0300 060 3900 or email

Tarr Steps Woodland

Tarr Steps Woodland NNR has an outstanding example of a ‘clapper bridge’- an ancient form of bridge constructed entirely from large stone slabs and boulders. This is set in a mossy woodlands crossed by a number of pathways.

Main habitats: woodland

Area: 33 ha

Management: Tarr Steps Woodland is owned and managed by Exmoor National Park Authority

Features of interest

Further information about the NNR, its wildlife and how to visit can be found on the Exmoor National Park Authority’s Tarr Steps Woodland NNR web page.


Exmoor National Park Authority (ENPA)

Telephone: 01398 323665 or email:

Westhay Moor

At Westhay Moor NNR restored peat diggings have been transformed into a network of open water and reedbed, making it one of the top bird watching locations in Britain. It also has the largest surviving fragment of lowland acid mire in the South West.

Main habitats: peatland

Management: Westhay Moor is owned and managed by the Somerset Wildlife Trust

Features of interest

Further information about the NNR, its wildlife and how to visit can be found on the Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Westhay Moor NNR web page.


Somerset Wildlife Trust

Telephone: 01823 652400 or email: