Reimagining The Levels

We are a group of people who all live on the Somerset Levels and care passionately about its future.  The devastating effects of the floods in 2013/14 to individuals, communities, the economy and the environment demonstrated the pressing need for a more joined-up approach that looks at the causes and solutions to flooding across the entire catchment. 

The world’s changing climate poses a critical challenge to the people and landscape of the Somerset Levels.  Brexit too will have dramatic and far reaching implications but we believe that these changes could provide the ideal opportunity for a new vision for rural land use and its economy in terms of food production, farming support, environmental protection and rural development. 

We have published a comprehensive report (see Our Reports page) which details our vision.

Reimagining the Levels logo

Our core team members are listed below:

David Banwell

I live in Wedmore, where I have been farming all my life.  For the last 30 years, I’ve been farming in partnership with my twin brother.

I have a special interest in traditional cider apple orchards and in managing wetlands.  I have been a member of the Axe Brue Drainage Board for over 20 years.

I am keen to promote the Somerset Levels as a working landscape, not just somewhere to ‘conserve’.

In 2005, I took on a two year project as the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) ‘farmer link’ for the Axe Brue area of the Somerset Levels, promoting the management of land through sustainable farming practices benefiting agriculture, landscapes and wildlife conservation.

I have participated in various European collaborations on habitat management and over the last 30 years my brother and I have collected several awards for this work.

Since 2013, I have been a Director of Paddington Farm, a charitable trust and social enterprise working to provide rural education and promote environmental responsibility amongst children from disadvantaged urban areas.

Sarah Sander-Jackson

I have spent my life working in sustainable project development – inspiration to implementation.

I have a practical legacy of establishing successful social enterprises – including a school farm, urban farm, co-operative garden centre and educational and community projects I was a founding Director of Somerset Community Food in 2000, and for ten years we provided effective training and community support for Somerset in areas related to local food and health, including food co-ops, community allotments and sharing cooking skills.

Since 2009 I have been a director of the Red Brick Building, Glastonbury. We have developed a well used community centre to promote arts, education and enterprise by renovating a derelict warehouse as an innovative community owned asset. I have been inspired by working with the Reimagining the Levels group to find creative ways of responding to the extreme floods of 2013/14. In particular I am interested in supporting the community to take initiatives by being well informed about the choices and responsibilities we can all take to best secure a viable future for the Somerset Level

Paul Sander-Jackson

I am a qualified social enterprise adviser and a non-executive Director with Wessex Community Assets, an organisation promoting and developing community ownership models in sectors such as housing, workspace and land.

I currently contract manage the Wessex Community Land Trust Project – which has delivered to date 120 affordable houses in 12 communities across Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. From 1999 to 2006, as Director of Somerset Food Links, I led development work for the local food sector in Somerset and was co-founder and first Chair of Food Links UK. My previous work has included development of an urban farm and a co-operative garden centre in Bristol as well as providing support for a wide range of community led enterprises in both urban and rural settings. I have lived on the Levels for the past 25 years – currently in Baltonsborough.

Carrie Skinner

I moved to West Somerset when I was four years old and living so close to Exmoor developed a love of the countryside that has deepened over the years.  On leaving Bristol University with a BSc in Social Administration and Sociology  and a qualification in Social Work, I began my professional career working for Somerset Probation Service. Over the years I have worked in all the major centres of Somerset which has allowed insight into the unique challenges facing these towns.  In 2003 I was appointed Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies with the University of Portsmouth having gained a Masters in Community Justice and a PGCE.  I retired in 2016.

I have lived in my present home on the edge of the Somerset Levels for over 30 years and have observed with concern the impact of climate change and agricultural practices on this fragile landscape.  I am a keen cyclist, using my knowledge of the Somerset roads as a way of keeping in touch with the changes in the landscape.

Martin Stanley

I live on the Polden Hills close to the Levels having moved from London some 11 years ago. I set up a charity over 20 years ago, and sponsored wildlife conservation projects in UK-including projects in the West Country, environmental education, organic farming and projects in Latin America including coffee and chocolate co-ops. Previously I had a career in the commercial sector in financial publishing, software and telecoms.

Since moving to Somerset, I have been involved with and supporting several local projects and organisations in the West country; I advise a community asset fund managed by Resonance (based in Cornwall), and sit on the advisory committee of the School of Social Entrepreneurs at Dartington.  I support the Real Farming Trust and the Oxford Real Farming Conference and the Wells Art Contemporary, Plotgate and Somerset Local Food and Somerset Community Foundation. I was a Trustee at Somerset Wildlife Trust and also the for the Environmental Lawyers ClientEarth.  I have supported the Red Brick Building in Glastonbury and the West Country Rivers Trust.  I am particularly interested in food culture, how food can be produced sustainably, cooking culture, and landscape scale biodiversity and agro-ecology..

Phil Stone

I am a long time resident of North Curry, near Taunton. Concern about the environment is a defining issue for me, having worked as a Landscape Architect for most of my life in both urban and rural areas.

Concern about the environment is a defining issue for me, having worked as a Landscape Architect for most of my life in both urban and rural areas.

During my time working for Somerset County Council I oversaw a wide range of environmental projects. Landscaping of new roads, quarries and waste sites were part of my remit. I ran a long term project to restore the Somerset countryside by awarding small grants to landowners and farmers to plant trees and hedges, create ponds, restore orchards, pollard willows and manage wildlife sites. At SCC I also oversaw the restoration of the Bridgwater to Taunton canal and creation of a 15 mile surfaced towpath for walkers and cyclists.

I am a Taunton Deane District Councillor for North Curry, Stoke St Gregory and Burrowbridge, the latter being the epicentre of the devastating floods of early 2014.

Now retired, I take an active interest in the three villages which I represent. I am a Parish Councillor in North Curry, involved in maintaining and improving the local footpath system and take a leading interest in the response to local housing proposals coming forward from the Local plan process. I initiated a community woodland near the village and lead a group of volunteers who maintain the area.

I am keen to see the rural economy and environment in the levels be more sustainable and feel that more resources must be directed to this aim.

Adrian Tait

Adrian’s past experience includes directorships of Wessex Reinvestment Trust and Brendon Energy.  He recently completed a ten-year spell as Chairman of Transition Athelney, which has been instrumental in a wide range of projects, including two major events promoting renewable energy solutions in Somerset.

Since 2012, Adrian’s specialism has been Climate Psychology, which aims to understand and help overcome the obstacles to effective engagement with our climate and ecological crisis.  It draws on the resources of Psychology and the psychological therapies and covers a wide range of factors such as denial, feelings of powerlessness and anxiety, also culturally reinforced attitudes such as sense of entitlement, consumerist notions of wellbeing and the delusion that human life can exist independently of the natural world. He co-founded the Climate Psychology Alliance

James Chapman

I moved to Somerset 25 years ago and live with my family on a small holding in Compton Dundon, overlooking the Levels.

As a schoolteacher and environmental enthusiast in the 1990s I created a business that through imaginative tree planting transformed the green deserts of school playgrounds into stimulating play areas. The initiative is now widely recognised as Forest Schools. Wishing to expand my knowledge I studied for an MSc in Environmental Biology specialising in the relationship between fungi and trees.

In 1992 I was invited by the British Mycological Society to join a research team in the virginal Ecuadorian rainforest. The beauty of the rainforest was breathtaking but over the next few years logging and mineral exploitation in the study area became a problem. Determined to address the issue I formed Outreach International a company that brought volunteers to Ecuador to assist with local forest initiatives. We offset the impact of international travel by planting oak trees and now have a fantastic woodland overlooking our farm. The business grew and over the next few years I had volunteers working across the globe supporting projects that included tree planting in the Palestinian Westbank and with landmine victims in Cambodia. As a result of this work, I was invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

I have planted trees and worked with trees throughout my adult life but realising how much there is to learn I am now studying for an MSc in Arboriculture and Forestry. Climate change is arguably the greatest threat to our delicate planet and tree planting in the right location seems to be one of the best ways of tackling it. This is the focus of Reimagining the Levels. It is a privilege to be a part of such a worthwhile organisation.  

Kate Towers

I joined RtL in 2020 and I’ve been very fortunate to be able to help deliver tree and hedge planting projects across Somerset. With much help from RtL members, land owners and volunteers we have created many new woodlands and hedgerows.

I’ve worked in horticulture for over 30 years, starting as a gardener in Italy and continuing when I moved back to England in 2000. In 2012 I qualified as a garden designer and set up my own practice. I soon became disenchanted with gardens as controlled spaces; I wanted wilder places drawing nature into gardens. I wanted people to be curators and supporters of natural spaces where wildlife thrives.

Inspired by my son who was studying permaculture I went on a Forest Garden course with Martin Crawford; it was really influential. More recently I’ve become interested in agroforestry and I went on Farm Ed’s Agroforestry Design Masterclass. I have designed and delivered agroforestry projects for two local farms and I’m working on a combined agroforestry and community allotment project in Compton Dundon.

This is a really exciting time, there is so much going on and so much to learn. I’m meeting so many people who are engaged and active and making a difference. I feel very connected to this area, this landscape. The more I see and the more I understand, the more connected I feel.

Community engagement is fundamental to creating change. Reconnecting people to nature, to the natural environment, to wildness is, I believe, essential for our survival. When we experience nature and begin to understand that we are part of it, we can begin to care for it. In doing so we care for ourselves.