National Character Area 142

Somerset Levels and Moors - Detailed Statements of Environmental Opportunity

This section expands on the Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity and provides further detail on each of the Statements of Environmental Opportunity.

SEO 1

SEO 1: Manage and plan for change in the function of the network of watercourses, water management infrastructure and wetland habitats across the Levels and Moors to provide benefits in improved flood management, water and soil quality, viable agricultural futures, protection of sub-soil archaeology and to increase the range and extent of habitats and species and their resilience to climate change.

For example by:

  • Restoring and maintaining a functioning flood plain, where flooding forms a normal part of land management, which also serves to enhance flood mitigation, protect peat soils from desiccation, increase biodiversity and preserve archaeological and geological evidence. Also, reducing pumping with engines driven by fossil fuels, increasing the use of gravity drainage and restoring natural processes in strategically important places.
  • Maintaining and restoring water management infrastructure – pumps, sluices and other control mechanisms, ditches, rhynes and drains – to minimise the impact of flooding on people and property.
  • Considering and applying more sustainable farming practices better suited to prolonged periods of inundation on those moors where flooding is most frequent.
  • Researching and exploring innovative approaches and options to address water management that potentially benefit both the natural environment and agriculture. Also, exploring mechanisms that release land to make space for more water storage and gravity drainage, including land purchase, land swaps, payment for ecosystem services schemes and farmer early retirement schemes.
  • Mapping and quantifying ecosystem services at a holding scale, particularly in the lowest-lying parts of the area, to identify and stimulate initiatives that release land from agriculture in exchange for other benefits, principally biodiversity through the expansion of wetland habitats such as fen, bog, swamp and reedbed, water regulation, protection of heritage assets and provision of access and recreation.
  • Restoring over-drained or damaged wet grasslands, and reinstating traditional water management techniques and groundwater levels, where appropriate.
  • Resisting field enlargement that would result in the loss of watercourses, leading to the erosion of the strong geometric pattern in the landscape, and the abandonment of traditional channel management practices.
  • Creating, within arable and grass ley fields, grassland buffer strips alongside watercourses to reduce soil erosion and run-off, and minimise nutrient leaching.
  • Employing best practice in soil management, use of low-pressure machinery, and careful management of livestock near watercourses and bank sides, using grassland buffer strips and semi-natural habitats to enhance infiltration and protect watercourses from nutrient and sediment input.
  • Identifying, and resisting intrusion into, areas of historical, archaeological and geological interest and sensitivity; particularly areas associated with prehistoric and iron-age activities, early Christian sites and the Battle of Sedgemoor battlefield. Conserving and interpreting archaeological earthworks and sub-surface archaeology, while recognising the potential for undiscovered remains.
  • Managing the historical network of field boundaries, including drains, ditches, rhynes and dykes, providing significant semi-natural habitats, improving water quality and preserving key landscape features.
  • Contributing to the planning and execution of the remaining excavation of peat in the Brue Valley, to minimise carbon losses and the loss of buried heritage assets and geological interest, and improving opportunities for biodiversity, soil quality and food provision in restoration plans.
  • Working in collaboration with landowners to realise the potential for restoration schemes on former peat works that will contribute to increasing areas of wetland habitat and improved water storage and management.
  • Maximising opportunities for integrating wetland restoration – raised bog and wet heath – with flood attenuation and water storage initiatives,
    adopting a ‘whole moor’ approach to landscape-scale flood management.
  • Resisting development proposals, particularly in flood plains, that increase areas of hardstanding, increasing run-off rates and reducing soil water storage capacity, while encouraging schemes that maximise sustainable drainage techniques.
  • Mapping ecosystem services at a landscape scale and modelling the effects of drought and flood to aid the identification of opportunities and shortfalls resulting from predicted levels of investment in the water management system.

SEO 2

SEO 2: Manage the predominantly pastoral agricultural landscape to ensure and enhance the future of sustainable farming, strengthening landscape character, protecting soils, particularly peat soils, and water, and enhancing biodiversity through improved integration of activity, creating more, better and more resilient habitats and ecological networks.

For example by:

  • Supporting the local farming community, where possible through agri- environment grants, encouraging flexibility in land management, where appropriate maintaining the existing mixed farming systems, and increasing the floristic diversity of pasture.
  • Identifying opportunities for changing and enhancing farm businesses through mechanisms such as premium brand marketing, use of traditional premium value hardy breeds, payment for ecosystem services, and linking the management of flood plain land to hillside land.
  • Aiming to develop a more diverse range of habitats, vegetation types and structures within holdings, enabling habitats and as a consequence, species to respond to the effects of climate change, while maintaining viable farming businesses, cultural associations and traditions and the overall character of the area.
  • Where appropriate, moving towards more extensive and sustainable land management (by means of appropriate stocking ratios and the use of hardy traditional beef breeds of cattle), reducing the risk of soil compaction and poaching, increasing opportunities for floristic diversity, promoting the sensitive uses of pesticide and fertiliser, and implementing manure management plans, reducing nutrient enrichment of watercourses and improving overall water quality.
  • Helping farmers and landowners in the lowest-lying, wettest areas to move away from farming, researching and mapping where the best opportunities exist. Land taken out of primarily agricultural use should realise other benefits such as an improved range of ecosystem services, including floodwater storage, reduced dependency on pumping of water, carbon storage, recreation, extensive fish production and increased biodiversity.
  • Maintaining, extending and improving the connectivity and area of permanent grassland and other semi-natural habitats on peat soils, seeking and realising opportunities to revert to arable farmland. Re- creating wet grassland and bogs, reedbeds and fens, especially on the peat, while continuing to recognise the need for the ongoing viability of agricultural activity within the area.
  • Encouraging the management, restoration and creation of withy beds, flood plain and wet woodland, particularly around the Curry Moor, Whitmoor, Stan Moor, North Moor, Hay Moor, Aller Moor, Salt Moor and West Sedgemoor areas, for their contribution to landscape character, cultural associations, enhanced habitat mosaic and for small-scale, localised basket-making.
  • Retaining and restoring to management pollard willows, and planting locally sourced and grown specimens suitable for future pollarding along drains, ditches, rhynes, drove roads and tracks to reinforce traditional landscape character, enhance habitat connectivity, while contributing to the regulation of water temperature and providing small-scale, localised sources of wood fuel.
  • Maintaining the diversity of vegetation and enclosure pattern found around the fringes of the Moors, contrasting with the open character at the centre of each moor and increasing opportunities for a wide range of biodiversity and local distinctiveness.
  • Working with farmers and landowners to improve farm infrastructure and waste management, encouraging crops which require lower chemical input and minimising the use of nutrients and pesticides to avoid the leaching of soil nutrients into watercourses.
  • Working through co-ordinated and collaborative management with existing projects, and specifically across the suite of nature reserves, as well as through emerging initiatives, to deliver enhanced land and water management and habitat connectivity, as well as informed and continuing engagement with local communities and user groups.

SEO 3

SEO 3: Safeguard and manage the geodiversity and geomorphological processes, particularly those influencing rivers and their flood plains, and the internationally important coastline and associated habitats and species. Where appropriate, allow the unimpaired operation of natural coastal processes, resulting in the creation of new habitats, protecting existing habitats, conserving and enhancing landscape character, and benefiting biodiversity.

For example by:

  • Responding to rising sea levels by making the best short-term use of existing flood defences, effectively realigning flood defences in the medium to long term and allowing natural, soft flood defences to develop. The development of new intertidal habitats should, where possible, compensate for any losses arising from coastal squeeze.
  • Maintaining the role of coastal and estuarine habitats in storing carbon and ensuring that new sites are managed to enhance the geodiversity and biodiversity value of the coast and estuaries and the internationally important species and habitats associated with them, and contribute to their expansive landscape character.
  • Seeking opportunities to increase the extent of intertidal habitats – including salt marsh, reedbeds and mudflats – to provide effective defences against wave energy and to protect and enhance biodiversity and geodiversity interest and value, as seen in the Steart peninsula realignment project.
  • Enabling the natural and dynamic coastal and estuarine geomorphological processes to continue, so that the coastline and estuaries can respond to changing patterns of accretion and erosion.
  • Raising awareness of the importance of the roosting and feeding areas for birds around the coast and estuaries, and the relationship to the inland wetlands of the Levels and Moors, ensuring that they are adequately protected, managed and enhanced in accordance with their internationally important status.
  • Sustainably managing the area’s visitor and tourist activities to conserve and maintain the distinctive coastal landscape, quality of beaches and high-quality wildlife present, providing interpretation and ensuring that the local community and economy continue to enjoy and benefit from the unique resources contained within the landscape.
  • Incorporating coastal heritage sites into adaptation plans, wherever possible, recording, promoting, understanding and recognising their historical significance and their contribution to local culture and coastal landscape character.
  • Retaining and integrating remaining Second World War structures and features into future land management proposals and particularly into flood management and coastal realignment proposals, where possible.
  • Where appropriate, setting back river embankments to reduce the long-term maintenance and current constraints of narrow, steep-sided river embankments.

SEO 4

SEO 4: Protect the open views and distinctive character of the landscape of the area and seascape of Bridgwater Bay, enhancing access to and interpretation of the wealth of natural, cultural and heritage assets, and recreational opportunities throughout the area, in particular its significant concentration of nature reserves.

For example by:

  • Promoting access to the natural environment across the area by making the natural, historic, inspirational and tranquil places available to all; further raising awareness of the work and influence of the many National Nature Reserves and other reserves within the area; supporting and encouraging sustainable visitor initiatives, education programmes and research; and ultimately working to ensure that the internationally important natural and cultural assets of the area are fully appreciated and reflected in appropriate levels of access and investment.
  • Exploring further opportunities to work with partners and organisations supporting volunteering in the natural environment, such as can be seen in the reserves network in the Avalon Marshes, to increase people’s knowledge of biodiversity and to maintain, enhance and promote biodiversity.
  • Incorporating and extending educational and access facilities, such as the development of a visitors’ centre at the heart of the Avalon Marshes, across a wider range of landholding types to improve understanding
    of functional wetland systems and provide access to managed, farmed and natural places.
  • Promoting the important role played by water, soils and drainage in the development of the landscape through a network of interpretation sites, particularly on the coast, and in the clay levels and peat moors, where existing roads and rights of way make them readily accessible.
  • Realising the opportunities presented by a level landscape for increasing the extent and connectivity of cycle routes, providing a low- impact form of access to sensitive sites for local people and visitors.
  • Working with developers and the local planning authorities to minimise the risk of visually intrusive development that encroaches on distinctive skylines and interrupts clear, open views, views into Bridgwater Bay and views along the coast.
  • Promoting the use of the strong pattern of the landscape and the wealth of its natural and heritage assets as tools to inform and influence new development; protecting the remote and sparsely settled character of much of the area; creating opportunities for nature and maintaining the legibility of the historical development of the landscape; and using access to the landscape, nature and heritage to underpin design solutions.
  • Accommodating existing and making space for new coastal recreation and shoreline access.
  • Encouraging access to, and interpretation and understanding of, cultural, natural and heritage assets by all sections of the community, leading to better planning and management of the environment.

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