Somerset possesses much lovely countryside but in the Cheddar Gorge and the Somerset Levels it has two of Britain’s most iconic wild landscapes. Meltwater floods in recent periglacial periods carved Cheddar Gorge from the hard Carboniferous Limestones of the southern edge of the Mendip Hills. The result is a classic limestone canyon with an impressive array of special flora. It is most famous for the richly-scented Cheddar Pink which we’ll see in perfect bloom. However there’s plenty else of botanical note including the rare Cheddar Bedstraw, Mossy Saxifrage and Lesser Meadow-rue. There’s also the lovely Cut-leaved Self-heal and a number of endemic Whitebeams. Peregrines are often overhead as they nest in the gorge.
We’ll move on to the nearby Gruffy Reserve to enjoy displays of early summer flowers including abundant Heath spotted orchid and scattered Bitter vetch. The Chimney sweeper moth whose caterpillars feed on Pignut, a delicate umbellifer common throughout these grasslands, is declining in much of the UK but is still common here. The lovely Common Redstart, uncommon in north and east Somerset, is found here.
We’ll take lunch at a spot overlooking the Somerset Levels with Glastonbury Tor in the distance.
In the afternoon we’ll visit Shapwick National Nature Reserve in the middle of the Avalon Marshes, the centre of the resurrection of the natural habitats within the Somerset Levels. Shapwick has a fabulous array of habitats from open lake to alder and sallow carr, and from rhynes (dykes or ditches) to wet meadows. The latter have magnificent colonies of Southern marsh orchids whilst the carr habitats hold some spectacular specimens of Osmunda regalis. Otters are present but in a brief visit we’re unlikely to see them however the birds are much obvious. The Somerset levels have seen a rapid increase in many wetland species and Shapwick is now home to a small group of breeding Great White Egrets and there’s plenty of Little Egrets (we will probably have already seen flocks of Cattle Egrets en route). Cetti’s Warblers sharp songs emit from the reed-lined rhynes and Marsh Harrier course back and forth. If the weather’s been warm we’ll likely see Hobbies picking off the abundant Odonata…
Flowers, Birds & Landscapes