The villages of Seavington St Mary and Seavington St Michael in South Somerset

Geography

The parishes of Seavington St. Michael and St. Mary lie in a hollow within a larger area of low-lying hills and valleys which runs broadly east-west. This area, designated ‘Low Lias Hills’ by SSDC in their characterisation of the landscape areas of South Somerset (SSDC, 2000), is bounded to the north by the moors around Kingsbury Episcopi and to the south by the Cretaceous ridge of Windwhistle Ridge and sits between the fringes of the Blackdown Hills to the West and Ham Hill to the East.

The Seavingtons occupy a sheltered site in the upper valley of Lopen Brook, a tributary of the River Parrett. The village shape is unusual being long and thin with most dwellings backing on to open country. The upper end of the village is split by the old A303 and is in sharp contrast to the more rural lower end, which has a working farm and the Seavington Hunt Kennels. The cider apple orchards that used to surround the villages have disappeared to be replaced by high grade agricultural land given over to arable and dairy cattle.

The parish is approximately rectangular in shape, roughly 2 ¾ by 2 ¼ miles with the long axis running NE-SW. Seavington St. Michael forms the NE corner of this block of land with the church of St. Mary roughly at its centre. The Seavingtons and the surrounding villages of South Petherton, Shepton Beauchamp, Lopen and Merriott are now largely un-wooded agricultural land predominantly of mixed arable and dairy farms. To the south, Windwhistle and the ridge between Dinnington and Hinton St George form a wooded backdrop of larch and beech plantations. The Dinnington valley itself has smaller fields and also has a more wooded appearance. Immediately to the north are the wooded slopes of Boxstone Hill, west of which are the parklands of Dillington House which is home to many mature and veteran trees. At the south-western edge of Seavington St. Mary the plantation, fronted by beech trees, on the western side of Park Lane is a significant landscape feature.

Since the Second World War there have been major changes to tree cover within the landscape of the Seavingtons and the surrounding villages. Increasing mechanisation in farming has lead to an increase in field size and the loss of many hedges. Many of the hedges remaining can be traced on the 1929 25” Ordnance Survey map (Somerset Sheet LXXXVIII.3) but are often in poor condition.

The outbreak of Dutch Elm Disease in the late 1960’s and 1970’s killed the elms which were dominant in the landscape. These are evident now only as suckering hedgerow plants that occasionally grow up to about 12 feet before once more being affected by the disease. No planting has taken place to replace the lost mature elms and consequently very few hedgerows contain hedgerow trees resulting in an open and exposed landscape.

Old maps show that cider orchards dominated the landscape prior to the Second World War, but Seavington now contains no commercial orchards. At Hurcott approximately 5 acres of orchard survive, but within the village of Seavington St. Mary just five orchard trees survive behind St. Mary’s Close along with a single tree in a front garden in Water Street. No orchards or orchard trees survive in Seavington St. Michael. An estimated 52 acres of orchard grew in the parish (excluding the orchards at Hurcott Farm) only 80 years ago.