The Quantock Hills were the first area in England to be declared an area of outstanding natural beauty AONB in 1956. The heathland and wooded combes provide a haven for wildlife. On the West Somerset coast we have Jurassic cliffs with intertidal rock pools and shingle banks. Where Bridgwater Bay meets the Bristol Channel there are both fresh and salt water habitats for seabirds and marine animals. The England Coast Path now makes this whole area of coast accessible for walkers.
What to look out for:
The Quantock Hills
Holford Combe and Bincombe
Woodlands in these Quantock valleys have an almost fairytale quality about them. Holford Combe has a major stream through most of it, and the valley bottom in Bincombe is often muddy and with a stream at its lower end. In summer both valleys have breeding Wood Warbler, Chiff Chaff, Willow Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Redstart. Throughout the year you can spot, Treecreepers, Wrens and Goldcrests amongst the many other birds that occur.
These heavily wooded valleys also have a great range of ferns, mosses and lichens to look out for.
The Open Tops
The high open tops of the Quantocks are truly exhilarating places with far reaching views across the Severn to Wales, Exmoor to the west and the Mendips to the east.
These open heaths are the haunt of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Stonechats and Linnets. Ravens, Peregrines and Buzzards breed around the Quantocks and will often be in the sky.
Visit in late summer when the heathers are in flower to see Common Heath, Bell Heather and Crossed Leaved Heath. Staple Plain, Crowcombe Park Gate and Wills Neck are great places to explore heathland habitats. Watch out! You may spot an adder basking in the sun!
Adder basking on the Quantocks by Ian Pearson
Redstart at Holford Combe by Nigel Phillips
Birds at Stolford
If you visit between October and March, the seaward side of the shingle bank is a favourite place for winter visiting waders, particularly Turnstones whose camouflaged winter plumage makes them very hard to see when they sit quietly on the shingle at high tide. When the tide is out the Turnstones along with many hundreds of Curlew, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Oystercatchers and Little Egrets will be out on the mud probing for the fish, worms and small crabs, that they feed on. Small numbers of Whimbrel and Grey Plover can also be seen here during the winter.
Redshank at Stolford by Nigel Phillips
The place to look for fossils on Somerset’s coast are the beaches that lie between Lilstock and Blue Anchor. This is a 20 kilometre run of low cliffs with good access down onto the beach at Lilstock, Kilve, East Quantoxhead, St Audries Bay, Doniford, Watchet and Blue Anchor.
The major part of these coastal cliffs are Jurassic Blue Lias which are a northern extension of the same Jurassic strata that has been designated as a World Heritage Site at Lyme Regis in Dorset. Although less well known than the Dorset cliffs a similar range of fossils has been found eroding from our Somerset cliffs. The most abundant fossils you will find here are ammonites (extinct marine snails related to modern-day squids) and bivalves, including clams, scallops and oysters. Concentrations of small, ribbed shells (called brachiopods) often crowded together in large limestone blocks also occur. Exploring these beaches to look for fossils is great fun and the cliffs themselves are awe inspiringly beautiful. But please be careful! These cliffs continuously crumble, do not picnic directly under them! Also the tide rises very rapidly on these beaches and washes right up to the cliffs. Make sure you know what the tide is doing.