The south and west Somerset catchment is unique in the fact that it contains the Somerset Levels &Moors. The Somerset Levels & Moors is man made and lies below sea level, making it prone to flooding. The Rivers Parrett, Tone, Brue and Axe run through this unique environment and are heavily influenced by it. The rivers in the Somerset Levels and Moors have been heavily modified to fit in with their environment. Pumps and sluices are used to control levels and flows to create lowland wet grassland and ‘wet’ fencing. This has given rise to one of the largest wetland areas in the UK, providing vital habitat for species of national and international importance.
There are numerous rivers in South & West Somerset; however the main rivers are the Parrett and the Tone. The River Parrett is 60km long and drains 1690 sq km, approximately 50% of the Somerset land area. Rising in the Thornley Mills springs in Dorset and flowing west through the Somerset Levels before discharging into the sea at Burnham-on-sea, the final 30km of the river is tidally influenced.
The River Tone is a major tributary of the River Parrett at 33km long. Rising in the Brendon hills, the River Tone is dammed to form Clatworthy Reservoir before converging with the River Parrett at Burrowbridge.
The rivers in west Somerset such as the River Barle, rise in the Exmoor region of Somerset and are flashy by nature. In South & West Somerset there are 122 river water bodies, 12 lakes, 3 estuaries and coastal waters, 13 groundwater water bodies and 1 canal. In 2009, 26% of these water bodies reached Good Ecological Status or better under the Water Framework directive.
In the country of Somerset there is a population of approximately 498 093, with the majority being in North east Somerset. Land use in the county is predominantly agricultural with a focus on arable, dairy and beef production. There is a long history of elver fishing on the Somerset Levels, however this is now in decline.