Landscape And Wildlife
Rhynes and Drainage
The landscape is largely manmade as a result of continuous attempts initially to reclaim the land from the sea and subsequently to control water levels to meet the needs of both farmers and wildlife. The fields, which are used mainly for grazing and withy growing, are criss-crossed with drainage ditches, or ‘rhynes’, which contain the overflow of water during flooding, provide drinking water for the cattle, and act as natural field boundaries or ‘wet fences’.
Willows and Withies
Withy and willow growing has been used for basket making and hurdle making for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. Planted willow beds are harvested annually for their strong, flexible withies. They can be used for baskets and making charcoal sticks for drawing. The willow trees which line the ditches and rhynes are there to strengthen the banks and delineate the droves and field boundaries. They need to be pollarded regularly and the resulting timber can be used for furniture, thatching spars or stakes in larger baskets, and living artwork in gardens.
Wildlife on the Levels
The countryside surrounding the Mump provides a home for a rich variety of plant, bird and animal life. The flooded moors create fertile wintering and breeding grounds for flocks of lapwings, teals, swans and waders.
The large and elegant heron is a common sight both in the sky and standing on the edge of rhynes waiting to catch an unsuspecting eel. The eel, with its unique life cycle, leaves the River Parrett and swims to the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean to breed. Its offspring, the elver, later returns to the Parrett to mature and begin the cycle again. These tiny fish are considered a delicacy and so valuable that fishermen, or ‘elverers’, come from miles around to reap the harvest in giant nets.
The once rare otter is being spotted more and more often on the riverbanks. Deer, foxes, and badgers are a more common sight in the fields and banks around the Mump.
Recently Cranes were reintroduced to the Levels. Before hunting and the draining of our wetlands wiped them out, cranes were plentiful and widespread in the UK.
Between 2010 and 2015, nearly 100 common cranes were hand-reared and released onto the Somerset Levels and Moors, doubling the UK population, and helping to secure the future of the crane in the UK.
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