Somer Valley Rediscovered is a strategic green infrastructure project led by Bath & North East Somerset (B&NES) Council, Wessex Water, B&NES Public Health and Natural England.
In response to growing evidence that access to greenspace has positive effects on both physical and mental health Somer Valley Rediscovered aims to improve biodiversity and, by increasing people’s connections to nature, improve health and wellbeing.
Projects will include providing better access to greenspace, habitat restoration, setting up volunteer networks to manage sites and a programme of events to intrigue and inspire people to enjoy and value their local natural spaces. It will enable communities to ‘rediscover’ their local walks, natural environment and heritage.
The Somer Valley Rediscovered project area includes Radstock, Midsomer Norton and Westfield, the large villages of Paulton and Peasedown St John and surrounding countryside and smaller villages. It is an area that has been profoundly influenced by the former coal mining industry.
Somer Valley Rediscovered aims to:
Re-connect people to their local greenspaces
Covid-19 and lockdown has brought into sharp focus the importance of access to greenspace within walking distance of home and the benefits this brings to mental and physical health. New research is also showing that connections with the natural environment not only brings about a plethora of health benefits but is linked with pro-environmental behaviour.
Improve Biodiversity and build Climate Change resilience
The State of Nature Report (2019) shows that on average the abundance and distribution of UK species has declined since the 1970s due to factors such as changes in farming, increased development and rising temperatures attributed to climate change. The B&NES Corporate Strategy cites addressing the climate and nature emergency as a core policy, with associated actions to restore existing wildlife habitats and create new habitats.
Improve the Health and Wellbeing of all sectors of the community
The natural environment is a wonderful health asset. The influence that the great outdoors can have on both physical and mental wellbeing will be recognised and celebrated. B&NES Council adopted a ‘Whole Systems Approach’ to maintaining healthy weight in 2019, which includes actions to encourage and enable more people to be active within the natural environment and Somer Valley Rediscovered supports this approach.
Wessex Water are currently piloting a social prescribing project in the area with the aim of reducing levels of pharmaceuticals in the water course to improve water quality. This involves working with Health Authorities to identify groups and outdoor activities where patients can be signposted as an alternative to prescribed medicine. Natural England have funded an officer to work specifically on this sub-project within the wider Somer Valley Rediscovered context.
Promote the area as a visitor destination for walking and cycling
The potential of the Somer Valley to attract more visitors is currently under-developed. The stunning landscapes, heritage interest and excellent network of footpaths and cycleways could be better marketed to visitors and this in turn would contribute to the green economy.
Miriam Woolnough has been appointed as Project Manager to develop a programme of projects. Currently she is undertaking conversations with town and parish councils, ward councillors, council officers, organisations and community groups to gain a deeper understanding of the area, to discover what the issues are and devise projects that address needs and meet the aims as described.
A costed action plan is being drawn up and funding bids will be sought to take the programme of projects forward.
Miriam Woolnough –Project Manager - Somer Valley Rediscovered