Dr Andy King, English Nature's senior manager for the project said: 'We're delighted to have the opportunity to purchase this site from Somerset CC, and are looking forward to working closely with partners and the local community to make this venture a real success. Apart from this site being key to the management and promotion of Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve, the centre is also a real magnet for visitors and locals. We are determined to ensure that the centre stays a very important and highly valued part of the local community.'
'This is an innovative way of working for us, and we will need the support of local partners and the community to achieve this. Not only will the new centre be good for the local economy, it will also provide visitors with improved access to, and a better quality experience of, the Avalon Marshes Nature Reserves. We want to promote the links between the Avalon Marshes of the past, managing the landscape of the present, and the impacts of climate change in the future.'
English Nature and other conservation partners (RSPB and the Somerset Wildlife Trust) have invested significantly in the site already and set up joint reserve workshops, the Avalon Marshes Workbase. The land acquired by English Nature will not include the Iron Age Reconstruction site, which will continue to be owned and run directly by Somerset.
Justin Robinson, Somerset's portfolio holder for adult and community services said, 'The CC is now finalising arrangements with English Nature, its principal strategic partner on the site, to secure the long-term future of this important visitor facility. The site is now at a point of transition and English Nature as the new owner will be bidding for funds, in partnership with others, to set up new and refurbished premises. This will secure and enhance the site for the future and we look forward to working with the partnership to achieve this.'
The Avalon Marshes comprise three National Nature Reserves, Shapwick Heath, Ham Wall and Westhay, managed by English Nature, RSPB & Somerset Wildlife Trust respectively. These reserves have several national and international designations including Ramsar Wetland of International Importance and Special Protected Area under the European Union birds directive; the whole wetland area is twinned with a similar site in Normandy, France, the Marais du Cotentin et du Bessin.
Since the winding down of the peat industry in the area these reserves have been managed solely for wildlife and provide a home for a spectacular array of birds, plants, mammals and nationally rare invertebrates especially dragonflies, butterflies and water beetles.