National Character Area 142

Somerset Levels and Moors

© Chris Mayes/Natural England

The Somerset Levels and Moors National Character Area (NCA) is a flat landscape extending across parts of the north and centre of the historical county of Somerset, reaching from Clevedon near Bristol in the north to Glastonbury in the east and Ilchester and Langport in the south. The Somerset Levels and Moors NCA is dissected by the Mendip Hills NCA and the Mid Somerset Hills NCA, notably the limestone ridge of the Polden Hills. The western boundary is formed by Bridgwater Bay and the Bristol Channel beyond. The landscape blends almost seamlessly into the Vale of Taunton in the south-west and into the Yeovil scarplands to the south. This is a landscape of rivers and wetlands, artificially drained, irrigated and modified to allow productive farming. The coastal Levels were once mostly salt marsh and the meandering rhynes and irregular field patterns follow the former courses of creeks and rivers. They contrast with the open, often treeless, landscape of the inland Moors and their chequer-board-like pattern of rectilinear fields, ditches, rhynes, drains and engineered rivers, and roads. Today, the Levels and Moors have many similarities but their histories are quite distinct. The Levels landscape was probably established by the time of the Norman Conquest while the Moors remained an open waste until enclosure and drainage between 1750 and 1850. Water is an ever-present element in the NCA; water from a catchment area four times the size of the Levels and Moors flows through the area, often above the level of the surrounding land. Much of the area lies below the level of high spring tides in the Bristol Channel. The biodiversity of the area is of national and international importance, reflected in the designation of 13 per cent of the NCA as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Protection Area (SPA) and a Ramsar site. The Severn Estuary Special Area of Conservation, SPA and Ramsar site lie immediately adjacent. More than 43,000 ha, two-thirds of the area, is classified as flood plain and coastal grazing marsh priority habitat; the largest lowland grazing marsh system in Britain. Wildlife abounds, most notably large assemblages of wetland and wading birds; more rare and scarce birds, such as the bittern, great white egret and recently reintroduced cranes; and both common and rare invertebrates and aquatic and wetland plant life, such as the greater water parsnip.

A close up of a bird
© Lynne Newton

Summary and Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity

Summary of the National Character Area, including a general description of the landscape, and headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity (SEOs).

Grassed fields from tor
© Chris Mayes/Natural England

Context Map

Interactive map that provides context to the National Character Area and its surrounds.

An old brick building
© Chris Mayes/Natural England

Key Characteristics

A list of the key characteristics of the National Character Area, which includes both natural and human influences on the landscape.

Birds in flight at sunset
© Natural England


Overview of how this NCA links to others, a description of the landscape today, and a summary of how the landscape has changed over time.

A large body of water
© Chris Mayes/Natural England

Key Facts & Data

Detail on the spatial distribution, type and quantity of components and features of the National Character Area.

Spider on grass
© Bill Unwin/Natural England

Natural Capital and Key Ecosystem Services

Overview of Natural Capital, and the benefits to society this NCA provides, linking to the Natural England Natural Capital Atlas.

Close up of a bird in flight
© Mike Hannon

Landscape Change

Monitored landscape change within the NCA, derived from the Outcome Indicator Framework for the 25 Year Environment Plan. Additional information is also provided on the changes and trends within the landscape as reported in 2014.

Wide river with grass verge and mature hedgerow trees
© Chris Mayes/Natural England

Detailed Statements of Environmental Opportunity

Detailed lists of how each Statement of Environmental Opportunity could be achieved.

A sunset over a body of water
© Lynne Newton

Analysis: Landscape Attributes & Opportunities

This analysis section focuses on the landscape attributes and opportunities for this National Character Area.

Water vole between reeds
© Lynne Newton

Analysis: Ecosystem Services

This analysis section focuses on a selection of the key provisioning, regulating and cultural ecosystem goods and services for this National Character Area.

Other Information

Below are links to external data sources that are relevant to National Character Area 142 - Somerset Levels and Moors

Other information link to

Green Infrastructure Interactive Map

Defra and Natural England's Green Infrastructure (GI) interactive map can be used to understand access to existing green infrastructure within each NCA. Good quality Green Infrastructure (GI) has an important role to play in our urban and rural environments for improving health and wellbeing, air quality, nature recovery and resilience to and mitigation of climate change, along with addressing issues of social inequality and environmental decline. The Green Infrastructure Framework is a commitment in the Government's 25 Year Environment Plan. It supports the greening of our towns and cities and connections with the surrounding landscape. As part of this, Defra and Natural England have developed a Beta version (V1.1) of an England-wide GI interactive map, which will support local authorities and other stakeholders to assess green infrastructure provision against the emerging GI Standards. By layering on the National Character Areas, listed under "Designated and Defined Area", users can map green infrastructure to help identify existing provision and demand within the NCA, as well as to compare GI provision between neighbouring NCAs.

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MAGiC Interactive Mapping Tool

Defra's MAGiC Interactive Mapping Tool presents geographic information about the natural environment from across the government. The information covers rural, urban, coastal and marine environments on an interactive map. The NCA boundaries can be overlaid to view this information by selecting Landscape/National Character Areas.

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National Landscape (AONB) Management Plans

National Landscapes (legally known as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty - AONBs) are nationally important landscapes, designated under the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. Their primary purpose is to 'conserve and enhance natural beauty'. Each National Landscape has a statutory Management Plan to drive partnership action across their areas. The Plan also outlines the special qualities that underpin the designated landscape. These documents can be found on each individual National Landscape website by searching for "Management Plan". Management Plans are updated every five years.

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National Park Management Plans

National Parks are nationally designated landscapes with two statutory purposes: 1) to conserve and enhance their natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage; and 2) to promote opportunities for public enjoyment and understanding of their special qualities. Reviewed every five years, National Park Management Plans set out how a range of organisations will work together to achieve shared objectives for the management of the National Park. The Plans also set out the special qualities that underpin the nationally designated landscape.

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Natural Capital Atlas Profile

The Natural Capital Atlas Profiles provide an "off the shelf" natural capital evidence base for each county or city region. Understanding the state of our natural environment is the essential first step to improving it. Natural England's Natural Capital Indicators (Lusardi et al., 2018) are designed to inform our understanding of the state of our natural assets. The indicators highlight the importance of our natural assets for delivering which ecosystem service and the benefits they provide for society. Understanding the state of natural capital is essential to enable the sustainable provision of multiple benefits, now and into the future. The best available and nationally consistent evidence is used to map out indicators showing asset quality, quantity and location. Indicators for some flows of ecosystem services are also mapped. These atlases provide an "off the shelf" natural capital evidence base for the relevant county or city regions within this NCA. They have a wide variety of uses with more information in the How to Start Using Your Natural Capital Atlas.

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NCA142 Farmsteads Character Statement

The Historic England Farmstead & Landscape Statement summarises evidence on farmsteads and buildings in their landscape and settlement context, as well as the historic character, significance and foresight issues for the NCA. Historic farmsteads, comprising the farmhouse and working farm buildings, make a fundamental contribution to landscape character, local distinctiveness and a sense of place. They are also assets which, through agricultural or new uses, can make an important contribution to the rural economy and communities. The Farmstead and Landscape Statement is supported by advice on farm buildings, which provides links to the National Farmsteads Character Statement, national guidance on Farm Building Types and a fully-sourced summary in the regional Historic Farmsteads: Preliminary Character Statements.