Following over 15 years of hard work by a partnership of conservation organisations, the Avalon Marshes have become one of the best areas for wildlife in the country. Recent years have seen a steady rise in the numbers of people visiting Shapwick Heath and Ham Wall National Nature Reserves, and the current visitor facilities are no longer able to cope. Parking has become a particularly difficult issue, with at times large numbers of vehicles parking along the road, causing congestion and inconvenience to local residents and communities.
Through regular questionnaires, visitors have also told us they would like to see improvements - in particular better signage, adequate car parking, toilets, better information, and things for children to do.The RSPB is now hoping to find a solution to the issue of parking along the Meare - Ashcott Road, adjacent to its Ham Wall nature reserve, and to improve the experience for visitors.
By working with a local landowner, we have now identified an area of land adjacent to our reserve that could be turned into an additional car park. Using a local consultant, we are drawing up initial designs for a car park for up to 150 cars, so that we can accommodate current visitor numbers and alleviate the problems of roadside parking. It would also include some additional visitor facilities such as a small welcome and information structure, toilets, a wetland wildlife discovery zone for families and new pedestrian access to our Ham Wall reserve.
We have already consulted widely on our initial proposals, including an open day, and are receiving widespread support for our plans. Our aim is to put finalised proposals to planning authorities in May. If approved, we would hope to have construction completed by December 2012.
It should be emphasised that what we are proposing is designed to cope with existing visitor pressure and to significantly improve the experience that our visitors are asking for. The facilities will be located away from the sensitive areas of the reserve and their construction will create additional new wildlife habitats. What we provide will be comfortable, yet low key and complement the planned main visitor hub at the Avalon Marshes Centre.
These plans form part of a wider package of investment for RSPB Ham Wall within the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership Scheme (a partnership of Somerset Wildlife Trust, Natural England, the RSPB, the Hawk & Owl Trust, Somerset County Council, English Heritage and the Environment Agency), which has just been awarded £1.8m by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Other work this will fund includes managing the reedbeds, creation of a kingfisher nesting bank, creation of new trails and viewing facilities, training for volunteers and events and activities.
If you would like to know more about our proposals, and how you can support their delivery, please contact Steve Hughes (Ham Wall Site Manager) on 01458 860494 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.