Natural England - Bridgwater Bay NNR

Bridgwater Bay NNR

Bridgwater Bay NNR is an internationally important feeding and roosting site for many waterfowl and wading birds.

Bridgwater Bay NNR

County: Somerset

Main habitats: Intertidal mudflats, saltmarsh, sandflats and shingle ridges

Why visit: Bridgwater Bay NNR contains one of the biggest intertidal mudflats in Britain as well as the largest area of salt marsh in Somerset. Around 200 bird species have been recorded at the reserve and flocks of up to several thousand birds can be spotted at the busiest times of year.

The large tidal range of the Bristol Channel exposes huge mudflats and salt marshes, which are teaming with microscopic animal and plant life. These support millions of larger creatures such as shrimp, shellfish and worms, the main diet of the many wading birds and wildfowl that can be seen on the site. 

For this reason the NNR is a Special Protection Area (SPA), Ramsar site and in the process of being designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

Star species: The reserve is of international importance as the second largest European moulting ground for shelduck, with up to 2000 birds present each July. The site also supports nationally important numbers of wintering dunlin, teal and widgeon as well as large numbers of curlew, grey plover. 

Avocet bred on the reserve in 2012 for the first time since the species became extinct in Somerset during the 1940s.

The reed beds support numerous small birds such as reed and sedge warbler whilst skylark nest on adjacent common land. At low tide oystercatcher and turnstone feed on exposed shingle whilst many birds of prey including short-eared owl, harriers and peregrine hunt over the peninsula.  

Whilst most of the reserve is below high tide there are some smaller areas that have been colonised by interesting plant communities. Notable species include rock sea-lavender, sea radish, tree mallow, Ray’s knotgrass and sea radish. 
 

Safety information

As the vast majority of the reserve is intertidal, the mudflats can be extremely dangerous. Please follow safety recommendations highlighted on signs throughout the reserve at all times.

Seasonal highlights

Spring

Due to its position within the wider Severn Estuary and the Somerset Levels the reserve is a vital stopping off point for large numbers of many species of migrant bird. It’s possible almost anything may turn up!

Summer

At this time of year, the reserve is home to thousands of shelduck who moult in late July.

Autumn and winter

The mudflats of the reserve provide a vital feeding and roosting ground for thousands of dunlin, wigeon and teal as well as many other wader and waterfowl species. Short-eared owl can be spotted hunting over the salt marshes. You might also see peregrine falcon diving into the water for their prey.

History

The remains of a submerged fossil forest between Stolford and Hinkley indicates that sea levels at the site have risen dramatically since the last ice age.

Tidal conditions have made the area an important fishing ground for hundreds of years, with the remains of at least 76 historic fish weirs and traps found within the reserve. Fixed-net fishing has been carried out at the Stolford end of the site for many generations. It is now, however, a much reduced industry with only a handful of licences to fish in this way being issued each year.

How to get there

By train

The nearest train station is in Bridgwaterexternal link.

By bus

Bus services from Bridgwater are provided by First Groupexternal link. Some routes run along the A39 and serve local villages. One of these is Stockland Bristol which is 2 km to the south west of Steart village.

By car

The reserve is accessed via minor roads from the A39 (M5). There is a car park near the reserve at Steart village and non-designated parking areas near the coastline.

On foot

The reserve can also be accessed via the River Parrett Trailexternal link which follows the river from its source to the Bristol Channel and passes through Bridgwater. Much of the coastline within the western part of the reserve is accessible via a waymarked public footpath.

Visiting the reserve

There is an interpretative panel and a leaflet: (310kb)pdf document to download. From Steart a path runs along a shingle ridge to hides at the mouth of the River Parrett. A tower observatory also provides views of the reserve.

There is disabled access to the coastline by public roads and special arrangements can be made to provide disabled access to the hides.

The nearest toilet and refreshment facilities are in local towns and villages.

School and community groups

Although the reserve has no educational facilities, it is used for field studies by a wide variety of school, college and university groups. For further information or to arrange a guided walk, please contact site staff on 01458 860120.

Want to get involved?

There are many opportunities for people interested in volunteering and learning new skills like habitat management, species protection, construction and surveying. Contact the Natural England site office on 01458 860120 for more details.

See also our section on volunteering with Natural England.

Further information

Contact site staff on 01458 860120 or email: somerset@naturalengland.org.uk.