Local landscapes

Mendip

We are so lucky in this part of the country to have such amazing landscapes. This section is a personal selection of places of wildlife interest in this large area consisting mainly of limestone. However, there are parts left of the cap of sandstone that have not been worn down completely and here exist colonies of acid-loving plants. More generally, remnants from the ice age are found in some alpine plant species that may still be found. Seen from the moors below, it is an impressive sight, rising straight up from around sea-level to over 1,000 feet, seeming much larger than its actual height. Western Mendip, with its characteristic rock-studded grasslands and dry-stone walls, has a high rainfall which renders it particularly green and feeds the wet moorlands down below.

Mendip has a fascinating history and has been surprisingly  industrial over many centuries, starting with Roman lead mines which continued to provide a living up to a hundred years ago. Sheep have long been a farming mainstay,  from the days when the monks of Glastonbury Abbey owned large chunks of this land and which animals were regarded as gold for the riches they brought.

 

Black Rock

An SWT nature reserve of 180 acres at ST48 54. This dramatic landscape is the remains of an old rock quarry on the north side of Cheddar Gorge. Also woodlands and limestone grassland, rich in flora and invertebrates.

Burrington Ham & Gorge

ST48 58. An extensive, winding gorge on the northern edge of Mendip much used by walkers and climbers. The Ham is a wild moorland area on the eastern side of the gorge easily reached from a parking point at the top of the gorge and with extensive wildlife. Very good walking country.

Chancellor's Farm

An 86 acre reserve at ST52 52, run by the Somerset Wildlife trust as a working farm. It is a remarkable example of unimproved pasture, going back many generations, and is carefully conserved. The meadows are full of wildflowers, including Bluebells, Cowslips, Autumn-flowering crocus and may others. It only opens to the public on one day a year. The name goes back to the days of Glastonbury Abbey when so much of Mendip was owned by them. The picture shows a common-pond sytem designed to make the most of scarce surface water on the porous limestone. The ponds allow cattle to drink from four surrounding fields yet keep them apart.

Cheddar Gorge

Open access around ST47 54. The north side is part of the National Trust while the south side is owned and managed by the Longleat estate. A famous feature of the Somerset landscape, the Gorge is extensive and steep, towering above the road and Cheddar village, running in from the south-west and leading to Mendip top through some truly magnificent scenery. Impressive when misty, as it often is, or under brilliant sunshine, Peregrine falcons, Falco peregrinus, breed on the cliff face and there are many unusual flower species, including the Cheddar Pink, ancestor of some our favourite garden flowers.

Peregrine falcon, Falco peregrinus        © robin williams

Cheddar Reservoir

ST44 53. This large concrete-edged reservoir has plans to add another similarly-sized one alongside the existing one. In addition to providing our domestic water supplies itis used for sailing, dog-walking and walks around the perimeter. It is a very fine wildlife site with varieties of exotica coming in during the winter such as Black and red-necked grebes, Great northern divers and rare gulls.

Crook Peak

A National Trust reserve at ST38 55. Wonderful walks over wild hillsides with fascinating flor and many invertebrates. Terrific views over the Levels.

Dolebury Warren

229 acre reserve of the Avon Wildlife Trust, with open access, at ST45 58. Spectacular scenery, limestone flora, butterflies galore and careful conservation make this one of the finest places to visit but beware, much of it is very steep. It has a huge list of interesting invertebrates.

Draycott Sleights

An 124 acre SWT reserve at ST48 51. A greatly varied are of bare limestone and wild meadow on the south side of Mendip. with populations of butterflies, varied flora and some of the most spectacular views of the Levels down below.

Priddy

A village on the top of Mendip reputed to be the wettest spot in Somerset. In effect is the capital of west Mendip, for long one of the meeting places for remotely-based farmers when communications were less accomodating. It is famous for being one of the main centres for the extensive caving which takes place beneath the surface. Indeed one of the cave entrances is alongside the church. Famous also for Priddy sheep-fair which has run each August  since 1348 when it took over from Wells during the Black Death. The surrounding area has many ancient burial mounds and evidence of anient mining.

Smitham Pool

ST55 44. Access and parking by permission of the Forestry Commision who own and operate this. It is splendid walking to and around the pool but dragonflies and other invertebrates are a major attraction. The pool is dominated by Smitham Chimney which was built in the mid 1800s for smelting lead ore and has been recently rebuilt. The fine dragonfly population includes many species, among them the exotic Black darter Sympetrum danae, the Emperor Anax imperator and the not so numerous Common hawker dragonfly, Aeshna juncea.


Stockhill woods

Also referred to locally as Stockhill Forest or Plantation. ST54 51. A large car park is signed off the main road. Although largely conifer woodlands tend to be less popular, Stockhill is happily laid out, with sunny clearings and wide rides, and is very popular. It has a wonderful selection of wildlife including Nightjars Caprimulgus europaeus, Crossbills Loxia curvirostra, Long-eared owls Asio otus and many other birds. Its population of fungi is spectacular, both in terms of variety and colouring. Heathland bumblebees, hoverflies and dragonflies visiting from Waldegrave Pool opposite, round off the attractions.

Ubley Warren

An SWT reserve on the northern part of Mendip of 86 acres. ST50 55. It is largely unimproved grassland on old lead workings. Some of the most productive areas for invertebrates are the old rakes where earler workings had been re-worked, leaving miniature gorges between rock faces. Species-rich flora.

Velvet Bottom

A 43 acre SWT reserve on old lead workings and old lead spoil beds. ST50 55. Much of it is now rough grassland ands scrub. Interesting landscape very popular with walkers. Interesting flora based on the lead.

Waldegrave Pool

One of my favourite spots, though it has much declined in recent years. Owned and managed by the Waldegrave estate, though it used to be managed by the SWT. Currently, Water horsetail, Equisetum fluviatile, has covered much of the surface and the huge numbers of dragonfly larvae are being heavily consumed by Carp, Cyprinus carpio, released into the pool by fishermen. It is still a remarkable dragonfly location, though for how much longer noone can guess. Emerald damselflies Lestes sponsa, Black darters Sympetrum danae and Downy emerald dragonflies Cordulea aenea are among the especially interesting species found here. The lower Priddy Pool is another great site for water insects and dragonflies. These two pools and Stockhill Woods form a perfect area for a wildlife walk, all within minutes of a common car park.

 

 


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