Explore the beauty of the Blackdowns

Sunset over the Quantocks and Blackdown Hills (c) accelratorhams / Thinkstock

Sunset over the Quantocks and Blackdown Hills (c) accelratorhams / Thinkstock - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Clare Groom picks her top events for 2017 that highlight the importance and beauty of the Blackdown Hills

Family river-dipping: Discover what's going on under the water

Family river-dipping: Discover what's going on under the water - Credit: Archant

One of the greatest assets of the Blackdown Hills AONB is its wildlife, which makes it the perfect place to get to know the natural world. A rich diversity of habitats and species are supported by the area’s unique geology and landscape.

Valuable habitats are scattered throughout the area, including flower-rich meadows, ancient hedgerows, springline mire, wet woodland, heathland, grassland, ancient woodland, fen and bog.

Bees, butterflies, birds, bats and many other animals thrive in the Blackdown Hills. The area is home to nationally-scarce species including hazel dormice, nightjars, Bechstein bats and brown hairstreak butterflies.

The Blackdown Hills Natural Futures project aims to help people discover, explore and support the natural heritage of the Blackdown Hills AONB. The team puts on events throughout the year to help you explore what the area has to offer.

All events are free unless otherwise stated but booking is essential.

A Fragile Beauty: Art on the Blackdown Hills 1909-1925

25 March-8 July, Museum of Somerset. This major exhibition at the Museum of Somerset tells the story of the Camden Town Group and its work on the Blackdown Hills. The exhibition celebrates a very significant moment in the art of the West Country and includes works by Spencer Gore, Charles Ginner, Robert Bevan and Walter Sickert, which have been borrowed from a range of public and private collections.

Wildlife Discovery Day: Youngsters will be delighted at what they find

Wildlife Discovery Day: Youngsters will be delighted at what they find - Credit: Archant

Wildlife Photography

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27 April, 8-9pm, Bickenhall, near Staple Fitzpaine

Via an illustrated talk, award-winning natural history photographer, Liam Marsh, will be sharing his insights into the technology and techniques used to capture wildlife on camera. Liam’s work has taken him from his home on the Blackdown Hills all over the world in his quest to create captivating photographs of the natural world using the latest technology.

Dawn Chorus Walk

13 May, 5-7am, Otterhead Lakes

Paintings by the Camden School depict life in the Blackdown Hills in the early 20th century

Paintings by the Camden School depict life in the Blackdown Hills in the early 20th century - Credit: Archant

Rise and shine with Somerset Ornithological Society and the British Trust for Ornithology to experience the dawn chorus at its best. Walking woodland and lakeside paths you’ll be given help to identify various bird songs and calls. Sturdy boots and warm clothing essential.

Wildlife Discovery Day

2 June, 10.30am-3.30pm, Forde Abbey

This half-term join Blackdown Hills Natural Futures team for a day of discovery, exploring the natural world. A host of local experts will be on hand to help you seek out and learn about animals and plants. You can even try your hand at river dipping or if you feel like getting creative there’ll be plenty of nature-themed craft activities too.

Feel free to drop in any time during the day. Children must be supervised.

Meadow Meander

1 July, 10.30am-1pm, Bishopswood

Celebrate National Meadows day with a guided walk exploring Bishopswood Meadows nature reserve. Discover and identify a wealth of meadow wildlife, including a good variety of wildflowers, insects and butterflies. The walk is approximately two miles with some steep slopes and uneven terrain.

Family river-dipping

11 August, 10.30am-12.30pm, Otterhead Lakes

Join Blackdown Hills Natural Futures team and local experts to discover the rich variety of life living in the River Otter at Otterhead Lakes. All equipment supplied. Wear wellies and clothes that you don’t mind getting wet and muddy! Join in anytime during the event for as long as you like. Children must be supervised.

Painting a picture of the Blackdown Hills

This spring, an exhibition of the work of the Camden Town Group, a circle of artists known for their paintings of the Blackdown Hills, will take place at The Museum of Somerset.

The Camden Town artists were English Post-Impressionist artists working in the early 20th century.

Named after the area in North London where the artists lived and worked, the group was influenced by French Impressionist and Post¬Impressionist painters. Initially it portrayed contemporary urban life, but some of the Camden Town artists were drawn to the countryside.

Harold Harrison, who was educated at the Slade School of Art, bought the Applehayes estate at Clayhidon in 1909 and began hosting visits by a number of members of the Camden Town Group.

Of the original members of the group, Robert Bevan, Charles Ginner and Spencer Gore painted most prolifically in the Blackdown Hills. Their work in this area celebrates an apparently idyllic rural scene just before World War One changed English society forever.

Taking inspiration from artists such as Paul Gaugin and Vincent van Gogh, the works are made up of blocks of colour and pay great homage to the area’s landscape, much of which is unchanged to this day.

The Museum has partnered with the fine art auctioneers, Lawrence’s of Crewkerne, who, together with private donors, have generously sponsored the exhibition. A varied public programme of events is being delivered in association with the exhibition, including with the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. ‘A Fragile Beauty’ is being created in partnership with Somerset-based curators and art historians Denys Wilcox and Richard Emeny.

Celebrated but seedy: The life of Walter Sickert

27 April, 7.30pm, Museum of Somerset

A talk by Richard Kay, art historian and Director of Pictures at Lawrences, Crewkerne, on the life of Walter Sickert. £15 per person with cheese and wine. Booking required: 01823 255088.

Family fun day

29 April, 11am-4pm, Museum of Somerset

A free family fun day based around the history, heritage and archaeology of the Blackdown Hills - the landscape which inspired the Camden Town artists.

Talk and tea: The Blackdown Hills

12 May, 2.30-3.30pm, Museum of Somerset

A landscape of patterns and pictures. Linda Bennett, Blackdown Hills AONB Manager will give a talk on the landscape of the Blackdown Hills and why it’s special. £5 per person.

In the footsteps of the Camden town artists

18 June, 10.30am-1pm, Clayhidon

Explore the Blackdown Hills fields, lanes and buildings, which feature in the paintings of Camden Town Group created during the 1910s and 1920s. Local naturalist, Gavin Saunders, will lead a walk through the valley around Applehayes and Ringdown in Clayhidon to look for echoes of the artists’ work. Suggested donation £5 per person. Booking required: 01823 680681


17 June, 10am-3.30pm, Bishopswood

Bumblebee Conservation Trust will introduce you to the ecology of bumblebees and guide you in helping to conserve these amazing insects. Learn their characteristics then try your hand at bumblebee identification at Bishopswood Meadows nearby.

For more information visit blackdownhillsaonb.org.uk or call 01823 680681.

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