A NEW freshwater pipe under the River Parrett has secured the future of rare birds and wildlife on internationally protected coastal land near Pawlett in Somerset.

Digging pipeline at the Hams, Somerset

From left: Kevin Beckley, Rob Hill and Steve Wilson, all from SW Directional Drilling; Nick Stevens and Jack Roberts from the Parrett Drainage Board.

The new pipeline brings fresh water from the Quantock Hills, under the River Parrett, to an area known locally as Pawlett Hams and Pawlett Meads. [See map attached for reference only]. The Hams are famous for their agriculturally productive coastal grazing marshes and network of wildlife-rich ditches and rhynes that support populations of water voles, rare plants and insects. The Hams also provide vitally important habitat for the large numbers of migratory water birds, such as curlew, shelduck, dunlin and redshank, that visit the Severn Estuary in winter months.

The 252-metre pipeline, one of the longest installed under a river in the region, replaces old iron pipes damaged by high tides in 2015. The Parrett Drainage Board, in conjunction with SW Directional Drilling, has installed the pipe at a total cost of £242,000.

Since the damage to the original pipe occurred, the area has been dangerously short of freshwater for cattle and wetland wildlife. This new pipeline will secure a supply of water to the area for at least the next 50 years, enabling farmers to graze their fields and help restore the ditches to good health.

Water supply pipe map

Map shows location of pipeline.

Colin Leppard of Natural England advised the Parrett Drainage Board on the project. He said: “We are delighted to see the project completed. Once the pipeline delivers freshwater to the area, it should quickly make the ditches stock-proof. This will provide drinking water for grazing animals, as well as improved habitat for the plants and animals that live there. It will also help support the water birds that use the site.”

Will Barnard of Somerset Wetland Wildlife Foundation (SWWF) added: “The freshwater supply for the Pawlett Hams, via the pipe under the Parrett, is critical for our grazing animals during the summer. Those animals are an integral part of SWWF’s management of the rare habitats on the Hams, and play an important role in the local economy. Without the repairs conducted by the drainage board, the long term future of livestock and habitat management on the Hams would have been severely compromised.”



For further information and interviews please contact:

Nick Stevens, Chief Executive to the Somerset Drainage Boards Consortium


Project progress:

Drilling of the pilot bore began on 1 August and the pipe installation was complete by Friday 4 August, installing a 252m length of 355mm diameter pipe. The Parrett Drainage Board and its contractors have now connected the pipe to the Cannington Brook and are temporarily pumping water from the south side of the river to the north side to quickly boost water levels. Once water levels in the Hams are back to normal the pipeline inlet will be completed and the system will then run by gravity and pumping will no longer be required.

Pawlett Hams is 397 hectares of rare, coastal, freshwater grazing marsh. It forms an important part of the Bridgwater Bay Site of Special Scientific Interest, which is predominately intertidal. The site is also notified at European and international level.

Drainage Boards:

The Somerset Drainage Boards Consortium comprises two internal drainage boards, the Axe Brue and the Parrett Drainage Board. The boards provide the vital services of drainage and irrigation to 136,000 acres (55,000 ha) of the Somerset Levels and Moors much of it below sea level, which includes some 22,000 businesses and properties.

  • The consortium maintains a network of 1,200 km of rhynes and watercourses, but is not responsible for the main rivers, which are the preserve of the Environment Agency.
  • Regular clearing and dredging is necessary to keep the rhynes in urban and rural areas clear of vegetation, silt and debris to enable water to flow freely to the main rivers.