This informal but detailed general interest course will cover Somerset’s botany, geology and some marine biology – you will also at the same time explore and learn about the Iron Mineral railway history through the botany seen on the line.

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Beginners through to the more knowledgeable are welcome, as are interested children over 14, accompanied by their guardian.

Teachers may find it useful to learn basic geological features – detail will be made plain.

The botany will make up around three quarters of time spent, although there will be ample scope to explore and tell the story of the rising ocean 200 million years ago that denoted the start of the Jurassic seas following the deserts of the Triassic. Botany will be done using English names learning the families with adequate Latin back up. You will discover, learn and hopefully ask about the many uses / notoriety of the several hundred species encountered – humour is often encountered ! We see over 100 on the first morning ! I would emphasise the Plant Families approach again which is the way I learnt. Some marine biology will also be encountered.

The striking headland, cliff, beach woodland and moor scenery reflects the geology and geomorphology – we learn how the plants relate to the rocks grown on how the sea has influenced and shaped the habitats encountered.

Fast moving local tides have the second highest range in the world after the “Bay of Fundy, Newfoundland – we take care ! There are also mud patches to avoid worth mentioning!

There will be a special chart to “Tell the story”. If time allows we may meet up after dinner or sometimes briefly next morning before departing for the day. Dinner maybe a little later to enable visits to tidal geological sites – circa 6.30- 7.00pm.

If possible we will aim to run a moth trap each night and study its contents before departing for the day (weather permitting).

Here is a list of geology features likely to be encountered :  Bedding plane, folding, anticline, syncline, overfold, joints, conjugate jointing, faulting, fault plane, fault throw, drag, breccia, slickensides, thrusting, ammonites, bivalve and brachiopods, crinoids, bone beds, bones, teeth, fish spines, sea urchin, coprolites, dip and strike,  conglomerate, sandstone, shale, siltstone, mudstone, marls, dolerite, gypsum, anhydrite, dolomite, calcite crystals, pyrite, nodules, relay ramp, ripple marks, trace fossils, unconformity, extension, inversion, tufa, hydrocarbons.

Please note that there are two very friendly bearded collies on this course, most have found that they added to their enjoyment!

Review of the 2021 course: 

“It’s hard to find a “hands on” marine biology course these days. Martin covered so much geology, botany and marine biology that all related to each other and the surrounding landscape. He made it equally understandable for both the academic and lay person. This is a skill in itself. The use of the lab with all the samples and diagrams helped reinforce what we learned out on site each day. Having the dogs around added another wonderful dynamic.”

Please note: This course is not part of the Biodiversity learning framework, this course is organised by Nettlecombe Court and the tutor.

About the Tutor

Martin Summers BSc.Geol  Dip Ed.  Martin is a geologist, naturalist and specialist teacher / ranger using the environment. He specialises in an informal but concise teaching style, stemming from learning much of his botany knowledge over 60 years ago as a child. He has been a geologist in Africa”

Formerly a keen marathon runner he achieved Welsh National Marathon champion in 1983, winning 5 out of 40 marathons run.

Martin has two very friendly bearded collies on this course.

He has been running the very popular A Field Study of the Geology, Botany and Marine Biology in South Devon for 21 years.

If you wish to contact Martin to talk about the course please feel free to email him on  [email protected]

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Example Timetable

Arrive 17:30

Introduction to the course after supper

Saturday: Watchet

After visiting the excellent Watchet museum we spend the morning botanising the Mineral railway - expect over 100 species as a baptism of fire ! Excellent introduction to how the botany reflects the rock type when we take a minor detour @ a level crossing - some fascinating woodland. We learn about the railway too of course.

On the lowering tide we explore West Watchet beach in the afternoon discovering the red Triassic and greyish Jurassic limestones. Expect some surprises too geologically. Alabaster gypsum is one, ammonites, shells & other fossils are present including reptiles. All the rocks, mineral and fossils combine to tell the story of the advancing seas & change from the Triassic to the Jurassic period. Faulting and folding are rife here - some superb structural geology. Marine biology will be minor but still feature.

Sunday - Blue Anchor Bay

We walk the coastal path along a fascinating shingle ridge botanising, recording what we see, including butterflies and moths.

We explore the beach and cliffs of Blue Anchor - The story in the rocks is well shown here in the cliffs - some great fossils to observe and find, including reptile, fish and other life indicative of changing times 200 million years ago. Marine again will be minor but will feature.

Monday: Kilve

We explore paths and a wood Near East Quantoxhead botanising before walking the cliff path from Kilve on a limestone grassland.

On a lowering tide we explore the beach geology and any marine biology encountered. There is much folding, faulting, fossils  (some big ammonites ) and layers telling of climate change circa 200 million years ago. Mud volcanoes are a particular climate change feature that we seek to visit - amazing.

Tuesday: Porlock

An all day visit to this unique bay to observe the Saltmarsh and see how it has changed quite recently. Lots of botany - we may go up to Hurlstone Point where there are great views over the bay plus some contrasting botany through a classic woodland. Some excellent Devonian folding can be seen in the headland and a disappearing stream add to this bay's unique nature.

Wednesday: Berrow Dunes

An hour to travel but worth it ! A classic dune botany site with a very high species count. We may be able to visit the golf course where there are Lizard orchids, Dune Helleborine and an extensive Marsh Helleborine orchid colony.


A walk along the shore at East Watchet - all three disciplines may feature here though fossils and minerals (Iron) are probably the draw. We finish in good time to avoid the rising tide.

We finish as we started on the Mineral railway but at the other end where there is a very long and steep Incline Plane. Botany will feature but its an ideal place to sum up the week from these high sandstone hills - and of course recap the part played by the Mineral railway.

We may have to pause briefly to get onto beaches if tides and onshore winds affect access


Depart after breakfast

Please note: Sometimes tidal access might make us arrive back at suppertime or even a little after by arrangement

What's Included

  • Expert Tuition
  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Full Board Accommodation
  • Hot and Cold Drinks
  • In Course Transport
  • Picnic Lunch

Before You Attend

You need to be reasonably fit too do the course. The rocky beach terrain is often rough with boulders, sand, gravel and sometimes mud which we will avoid. Away from the shore line walking is easier, but you still need stout footwear and competent clothing.

What to Bring

  • Casual and some warm clothing
  • Waterproofs and wellingtons
  • Stout trainers / walking boots
  • Lunch box, salad box and flask / drink bottle
  • Note book, pencil, camera / binoculars

Please note: due to the layout of Nettlecombe Court we are only able to offer shared twin rooms for this course, or non residential places. Please contact the centre if you need any more information about the accommodation.

Recommended Reading

  • Collins Flower Guide  D. Streeter. ISBN 978- 0- 00- 718389- 0.  - Our botanical tick list is based in order on this comprehensive book.
  • The Geology of Watchet & its Neighbourhood, Somerset    Eric Robinson.  Geol Assoc Guide No 66 ISBN  978- 0900717 — Excellent Booklet, easy reading and all relevant to course
  • The Geology of Somerset     Peter Hardy.   ISBN 0 -948578- 42- 4 - Good reading.
  • The Minehead district- a concise account of the geology    British Geological Survey. ISBN 0 - 11-884544- 6.   More for geologists but some great detail .
  • Lyme Bay fossils !  Beach guide.   Nigel Clarke  ISBN 9- 780907- 683407     Same fossil groups as Lyme Regis, Small booklet with diagrams makes fossil ID easier.
  • The Old Mineral Line - R J Sellick - ISBN 978 - 0- 85704- 188- 3.    Booklet

Opportunities to attend this course

This course is not currently available to book. Dates will follow soon.

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Please see Martin's other popular course A Field Study of the Geology, Botany and Marine Biology in South Devon which has been running for 21 years.