The RSPB has today welcomed the Royal Bath and West Society’s announcements on the newly named Somerset Levels Development Fund (SLDF), formerly known as the Somerset Levels Relief Fund (SLRF). 

The Royal Bath and West Society has been working closely with a variety of partners, including RSPB, on developing the Government initiated Somerset Flood Action Plan (FAP). In particular, in liaison with Somerset County Council, it has been looking at areas of work it can deliver, outside the scope of statutory funds. 

Alongside looking at catchment wide management to reduce the impacts of floods on landowners, including maintaining rivers through a programme of de-silting, the newly named fund will also be seeking money to develop a number of innovative programmes to broaden the economic base of the Somerset Levels and Moors using the environment as a “unique selling point”.

Mark Robins, speaking for the RSPB in the South West said; “There’s a lot to be really positive about here, and it’s great to be working in partnership with the Royal Bath and West Society to help address some of the problems so tragically brought into sharp relief last winter.

“The RSPB has always firmly believed that nature is part of the solution for this special place and we warmly welcome the proposals outlined by the Royal Bath and West Society today”

The proposals welcomed by the RSPB include:

  • Undertaking a pilot investigation to identify the merits of an “Ecological Enterprise Zone” on the Levels, where businesses are encouraged and supported to collaborate in making more use of the economic value of the outstanding environmental quality of the Levels and Moors.

  • A scheme that encourages businesses to businesses to collectively develop the opportunities to make the most of the high economic value of the Levels by joint marketing, establishing new visitor facilities and services such as wildlife safaris.

  • Setting up a pilot Payment for Ecosystem Services scheme on one key Moor.  Currently land managers are only rewarded for some of these services by conventional markets and this can result in the over-prioritisation of one service to the detriment of others. The pilot study will investigate the range of ecosystem services provided by one Moor, examine how this might change under different land and water management, and investigate new and innovative funding mechanisms that can incentivise change and provide land managers with new income streams.

  • Conducting research into the creation of a Community Land Trust. This could provide a mechanism for the community to purchase, own and manage land on some of the wettest parts of the Somerset Levels and Moors where the most significant changes in land management are required. Such a Trust could facilitate a collaborative approach to the management of the floodplain enabling farmers to work together with their local communities.

  • Developing the current work of converting wetland biomass from nature reserves into energy by expanding the programme to farming businesses on the Levels.

Mr Robins added; “This is just the sort of innovative thinking we need; thinking that clearly sees nature as adding value to the Somerset Levels and Moors. We’ve long thought that businesses were sitting on a goldmine in this special part of the world, and hopefully this initiative will enable people to make the most of, and trade on, the quality of the local environment and it’s wildlife riches. The RSPB is delighted to be part of this.”