Gold Corner pumping station
Changes in the numbers of ciurlew, lapwing, snipe and redshank on twelve core sites between 1977 and 2009. Breeding waders are the key indicator of the health of birdlife on the Somerset Lervels and Moors.
THE LOWERED WATER TABLE: PUMPING AND DRAINAGE
Information leaflet, August 2019
Gold Corner pumping station.The largest pumping station in South West England is at Gold Corner in the lower Brue valley, between the South Drain and the (man-made) Huntspill River. There are several other substantial modern pumping stations in the catchment area, and numerous privately-owned pumps, together keeping the water table artificially lowered to facilitate modern intensive farming. This also results in the River Brue and its tributaries being reduced in size, and in the peatlands being dried out – which has a particularly damaging effect on the region’s archaeological heritage that for thousands of years was safely preserved in the peat bogs. But by far the greatest effect is on wildlife.
Somerset’s wetland habitat only now exists in areas owned and managed by organisations such as the Somerset Wildlife Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Wetland flora and fauna – most prominently birdlife – was dramatically reduced in the 1970s and 1980s, and although numbers are now stabilised they are at a level that is not secure; normal variation from year to year could bring them down critically.
Until 1980, drainage schemes were automatically considered to be an improvement to the land and an increasing number were given the go-ahead and often grant-funding. At the same time peat extraction was being carried out on an industrial scale, and habitat destruction proceeded apace. In 1991 the RSPB circulated a hard-hitting and highly influential report An Internationally Important Wetland in Crisis, that attributed the decline in Somerset’s wetland wildlife to the continuing steady decrease in maintained water levels – which it described as ‘deliberate’ since there was demonstrably no matching decrease in rainfall.
Since 1991 the absolute disaster predicted by the RSPB’s report has been averted, partly due to the increasing number of ‘agri-environment’ schemes introduced since the end of the last century, such as the Environmental Stewardship scheme. Much more important, however, has been the gradually growing network of wildlife sanctuaries maintained by the RSPB themselves and similar bodies.
Many of these have been created in worked-out peat diggings. They provide some sort of refuge for what remains of the wetland ecosystem, though most of them rely on continual pumping to maintain adequate water levels. This means they have to be managed and maintained with a similar effort and expense as the maintenance of the surrounding farmland – though with water levels being raised rather than lowered. In spite of appearances, there is virtually no natural wetland remaining in Somerset.