The Severn Vale below Gloucester is a complex area of land and water that is coming under increasing pressure from development. However, compared with the neighbouring Cotswolds and the Forest of Dean, our understanding of the Lower Severn Vale is comparatively poor. The Campaign to Protect Rural England is funding a programme of student research to help plug this gap in understanding. As part of this project, GOGL internship students are helping to build a geographical information system (GIS) for the Severn Vale, using open software and data, which it is hoped will be an important tool for helping to inform future decision-making in the area.
Recently, I led a group of people with an interest in the project (including staff and students from the CCRI and the School of Geography, and senior representatives from CPRE Gloucestershire) on a study tour of the Severn Vale. Our aim was to gain a deeper understanding of the physical, social and cultural geography of the area, to appraise current development pressures and proposals, and to stimulate discussion around project planning and future data requirements.
Our itinerary took us first to Coaley Peak Viewpoint, on the Cotswold Scarp, a few miles to the north east of Dursley in Gloucestershire, where the clear (and very cold) conditions afforded us superb views. The excellent visibility meant that almost the entire lower Vale area could be seen from this vantage point, allowing us to appreciate and discuss the setting and landscape of the Severn Vale.
Our next stop was Slimbridge Wetland Centre, where we were met and hosted by Esther Collis, the ‘Severn Vision’ Project Manager at Slimbridge WWT. Here, we scaled the steps of the Sloane Observation Tower and continued our discussions about the geography of the Severn Vale, and the pressures from planning in the area, with the help of the spectacular panoramic views available from the top of the tower. The group then moved outside and toured several of the viewing hides that look out onto the Slimbridge Reserve, from where we were able to appreciate close-up views of the the wildlife and the Severn Estuary.
Following lunch at Slimbridge, our next port of call (quite literally) was Sharpness on the River Severn, where we were met by Mike Johnson of the Gloucester Harbour Trustees, who guided us on a tour of the dockside and told us about the operation of what is still a commercially-active port. Having gained a fascinating insight the maritime and commercial importance of the Severn Estuary, we walked to the harbour entrance and took in a view of the entire lower estuary as far as the old Severn Bridge, and beyond.
The final stop for our minibus before returning home was the village of Berkeley, a few minutes down the road from Sharpness, where we stopped briefly to discuss the pressures of building development in the area at a site earmarked for the construction of housing. An interesting and worthwhile trip, and one which has been extremely valuable for informing the future direction of the GIS project. Plenty more to see in this interesting, and in it’s own way, beautiful area – a summer trip beckons!