Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve

This magnificent and varied nature reserve covers over 500 ha at the heart of the Avalon Marshes (part of Somerset’s Levels and Moors). Shapwick Heath is part of an area that's steeped in history and is a superb place to watch wildlife, whether it's an elusive bittern, an otter lurking in the reed beds, or the swirling flocks of starlings that come to roost in winter.

Incredible variety

Habitats include: lush wildflower meadows, water filled rhynes; damp, secretive fens; shady, wet fern woods; and open water, fringed with rustling reedbeds.  It's this mix which makes the reserve so rich in wildlife. Over 60 different species of birds nest at Shapwick, including Cetti's warbler and great-crested grebes, while dragonflies and butterflies abound in the summer including the impressive White Admiral. Mammals also thrive at Shapwick, including water voles, lesser horseshoe bats and, of course, otters.

Peatland landscape

Like much of the Avalon Marshes Shapwick Heath is a landscape formed from peat. In the 1960s, peat was removed by huge machines for horticultural use. This which has been transformed into the landscape of lakes, reedbeds, fens and woodland which we see today.

The Sweet Track

Around 6,000 years ago, Neolithic people lived on the higher, dry ground around what is now Shapwick Heath, and built wooden trackways to cross what was reed swamp.  The most important of these, the Neolithic Sweet Track still exists on the Reserve, preserved beneath the wet peat.  You can walk along the line of the Sweet Track and see a replica section heading off into the reeds as it did all that time ago.

Shapwick Heath today

Shapwick Heath is now a National Nature Reserve cared for by Natural England.  The reserve is very close to the Avalon Marshes Centre and adjoins Catcott, Ham Wall and Shapwick Moor nature resereves. It has a good network of tracks, hides and viewing areas. The principal features are:

  • Hides located in key locations - see map.
  • Cycle way / footpath running through the heart of the reserve (The Old Railway Track) this links to Ham Wall National Nature Reserve and Glastonbury.
  • Sculpture Trail with disabled access
  • Sweet Track Trail - With replica trackways
  • Discovery Trail - Easy access trail for families and wheelchairs
  • Footpath link with Shapwick Moor nature reserve
  • Regular news on the Friends of Shapwick Heath Facebook

 Shapwick Heath Field Studies Guide

There is now a Shapwick Heath NNR FSC guide which is packed with information about the reserve and full colour pictures for some of the iconic species of flora and fauna. The guides are now on sale and can be purchased for £3.80 each from the Natural England Shapwick Heath Office by contacting Julie Merrett at: or call 01458 860120 during office hours.


Shapwick Heath - Parking, entrances and hides.

  • You can view a feature list by clicking on the top left icon (click on the individual feature for more information).
  • To zoom in or out click on the plus / minus  signs (bottom left hand corner)
  • To view the map full screen click on top right “box” icon


Photo credits:
Mike Hannon - Great White Egrets
Lynne Newton - Marsh Harrier, Four Spotted Chaser