Burrowbridge North Petherton Langport wells Burton Pynsent monument Westonzoyland Pumping Station Somerton

The Levels

The levels and Moors of Somerset are the most important area of "wetland" left in England.

The area was once an inlet of the sea and the flood plain of five rivers. Over hundreds of years a wide coastal belt - "The Levels" was built from clays deposited by the sea and this restricted the river flows to the sea. The inland area - "The Moors"- thus became marsh, fen and bog. The river valleys became filled with peat deposits, which contain well-preserved remains from past activities from 4000 BC, including prehistoric trackways and lake villages. There are other historic associations with both King Alfred and the Monastries. This is the landscape which gave Somerset its name "the land of summer" a fertile land providing grazing for the animals in summer but largely covered with water and inaccessible in winter.

The area is still not well drained. The Levels are higher than the "Moors", the rivers have slight gradients to the Bristol Channel and some of the Moors are at or below sea level. The history of the area is of mans struggle to overcome flooding from the rivers and the sea. The monastic estates were responsible for many flood containment banks still seen in the area and over the last 800 years a complex arrangement of rhynes (ditches), drains, tidal sluices and pumping developed.

The 19th and 20th centuries saw the greatest changes when demands for food prompted new initiatives .The enclosure of common land was followed by schemes involving new rhynes, straightened river channels, new main drains such as the King Sedgemoor and tidal sluices and pumps - at first steam later diesel. Bigger, heavier machines allowed more ambitious projects culminating in the construction of Huntspill River. A permanent state of waterlogging has thus been effectively prevented.