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Project information

Homes for Herons

Rare herons like Bittern, Great White Egret and Night Heron need help. Now found in only a few places in Britain, their wetland habitats are still threatened. Somerset is currently a stronghold for these birds so it is vital we are able to continue our work or populations will be put at risk.

March 2019 - October 2020

Charity information: Somerset Wildlife Trust

Somerset Wildlife Trust logo
  • Need


    Members of the heron family are some of our most visually majestic wetland birds. Due to the efforts of Somerset Wildlife Trust and other organisations, an incredible 7 species of heron now live in the Avalon Marshes, when 40 years ago there were just 2 across the UK. However, the future of this diverse family of birds is far from secure. Without continuing to provide their ideal habitat, by maintaining and improving our Avalon Marshes nature reserves, these special birds will not thrive.


    Managing reedbeds effectively on our flagship reserves, Westhay Moor and Catcott, is vital for herons. Funding will help us undertake structured reed cutting, improving habitat and increasing the chance of breeding success. New equipment will help with maintenance and provide access to more remote areas. Monitoring is crucial, as is being able to share what we find with those who are unable to visit, and the use of new technology will allow this with low levels of disturbance.

  • Aims

    Aim 1

    Improving and maintaining our flagship wetland reserves to create ideal habitats for rare herons.


    » Create ideal habitat for heron species by rotational reed cutting to create age structure and ideal feeding areas, especially near bird hides
    » Purchase equipment that allows volunteers and staff to reach inaccessible areas of the reserves and continue maintenance of wetland habitats.

    What success will look like

    Monitoring of habitat quality and our birds will validate the effectiveness of our work. This will continue after the end of the project and will include the annual Bittern survey

    Aim 2

    Enable volunteers by providing equipment, tools and training to best support our wetland reserves.


    » Purchase equipment that allows more work to be done by volunteers instead of contractors, helping us save money and empower these volunteers.
    » Train and nurture our volunteers as gratitude for the time they donate to the Trust. Help them develop skills and improve their health and wellbeing.

    What success will look like

    Volunteers acquire new skills, helping us undertake more tasks in-house, saving money and increasing capacity. Empowering volunteers creates a talented, capable and motivated team

    Aim 3

    Use new technology to monitor our birds without disturbing them.


    » Use hidden cameras to monitor the birds. This will help us better identify successful breeding pairs and continuously review the needs of our herons.
    » Publish gathered footage online and promote through all communication channels to help engage people with nature.
    » Use footage to create a ‘virtual’ wildlife world for everyone wherever they live, including those with limited mobility who cannot visit our reserves

    What success will look like

    Monitoring allows us to assess our success and support future decisions. Our footage will help create a ‘virtual’ wildlife world enabling people to better engage with these birds.

  • Impact


    Of the 12 species of heron found in the UK, 7 are now seen in Somerset. By improving our flagship reserves to create more and larger areas of their ideal habitat, we aim to attract more of these rare herons to Somerset. The Avalon Marshes is already a stronghold and breeding numbers have increased, although some species have only bred once or twice in the last 10 years. The work we are planning should attract more breeding pairs to our reserves and prevent any decline in their numbers.


    We must avoid disturbance to breeding and wintering wildlife. This means our window for most work is from August to October. Unusually wet weather at this time of year can result in poor ground conditions and limit our access with machinery. To mitigate this risk we will time the project over two seasons. There is a risk that heron populations will not respond in the way we expect. To mitigate this risk we have carried out extensive desk and field research to learn what has worked elsewhere.


    We will send donors email updates covering forthcoming activities, changes to the project and long-term achievements so they can see the outcomes of their donations. We will invite our pledgers and champions for a tour of our reserves to experience first-hand the impact of their contribution.

  • Budget

    Budget - Project Cost: £21,500

    Loading graph....
      Amount Heading Description
      £8,300 Habitat restoration rotational reed cutting to create age structure and ideal feeding areas
      £8,300 Enabling volunteers New equipment and training for volunteers to help us access hard to reach areas of our reserves and
      £4,900 Species monitoring Improved technology to monitor birds without disturbance and to help engage people everywhere in the
  • Background


    The Avalon Marshes are at the heart of Somerset’s Levels and Moors. They are not only one of the finest remaining lowland wetlands in Britain but are internationally important. It’s the size and variety of wetland habitats that makes Avalon Marshes so good for wildlife. There are huge areas of open water and reedbed alongside heath, fen, woodland and grasslands. It is a particularly important area for the breeding of rare herons and people visit from afar to see Bittern and Great White Egret.


    Our main aim is to increase the number and range of herons on our reserves for example by establishing a breeding colony of Great White Egret at Westhay. We also want to develop our volunteers and the experiences we can offer them. We hope to attract more visitors to our reserves, as there is overwhelming evidence that contact with nature has a positive impact on health and wellbeing. Our online footage will enable people who are unable to travel to connect with nature too.

  • Why Us?

    Why Us?

    Somerset Wildlife Trust has over 50 years’ experience of creating ideal conditions for wildlife and a proven track record in making our nature reserves great places to visit. In the 1970s we were the first conservation organisation to buy land in the Avalon Marshes and turn former peat workings into wetland habitats managed for wildlife. These now include our Westhay Moor NNR and Catcott reserves. Staff and volunteers work together to get work done as cost effectively as possible.

    Read more about the Charity running this project.


    Mark Blake

    Reserves Manager: Mark has managed our Avalon Marshes reserves for almost 10 years. He will plan work, commission contractors and manage volunteers.

    Adam Kasik

    Reserves Assistant: Adam will lead volunteer work parties carrying out habitat management and bird monitoring.

    Kevin Anderson

    Visitor Experience Officer: Kevin assists on the reserves, running tailored sessions on specific wildlife topics and supporting engagement activities

    Approximately 20 Volunteers

    Volunteers take on a range of roles including monitoring, maintenance of our reserves and engageing with reserve visitors

Back in the 70s, there were 2 species of heron breeding in the UK. Now, we have 7 species breeding in Somerset alone, including egrets, bittern and the nocturnal night heron. This shows wetland restoration has been a huge success and with help from our supporters we can create more amazing habitats

Stephen Moss – Naturalist, Author, TV Producer