3.3.1 AONB designation recognises the importance of heritage and reinforces the need to protect and manage characteristic features. The Mendip Hills have evidence of human settlement dating back to Palaeolithic times, 500,000 years ago. Henge monuments, barrows and hill forts on the plateau are some of the most prominent features of the area. The historical value of the area is incredibly rich and important and includes 198 Listed Buildings and 169 Scheduled Monuments. Interest and participation in this subject is also high leading to previously unrecorded sites and features being recorded.
3.3.2 Customs and traditions that have historic and cultural associations with the land and activities of local people are important too. This includes Mendip cave exploration begun in the late nineteenth century, the Rock of Ages service to mark the origin of the famous hymn, Priddy Sheep Fair dating back 650 years, the hedging and ploughing matches promoting rural skills, village strawberry fairs and a more recent tradition Blagdon Pumping station Sunday open days. There are very few weekends when there is not an event happening in the Mendip Hills that is not custom or tradition related and demonstrates community engagement with their heritage.
3.3.3 Further to the Mendip Hills AONB Historic Environment Strategy (2001) identifying key research needed for the area a Lidar and aerial survey was commissioned and this led to English Heritage embarking upon a four-year research project (2006-10) to describe the change over time of settlement patterns and other human impacts on the landscape. Research reports and site surveys are on the English Heritage website and the main publication will be available in 2014.
3.3.4 Following publication of Mendip from the Air (2007), English Heritage continues to provide support to ensure that the Lidar data can be used by individual research students, local groups and consultants to inform understanding about the heritage.
3.3.5 The annual Mendip Hills Heritage Seminar started in 2002, now organised by Wells and Mendip Museum, presents recent and current research by professional bodies, local history groups and individuals. The annual national Festival of Archaeology is promoted locally by the Museum featuring a significant number of events in the Mendip Hills.
3.3.6 Village Design Statements, Parish Plans and Neighbourhood Plans are important tools for identifying and raising awareness of characteristic features. Together with Historic Landscape Character Assessments they contribute to the planning decision-making process. In 2012 the AONB local authorities with support from the AONB Partnership digitised the areas Tithe Maps to make them accessible to assist understanding of the landscape.
3.3.7 The Mendip Hills AONB Lifelines project (2006-8) gathered baseline information on dry stone walls. The walls not only reveal the underlying geology but also reflect changes in settlement and agriculture and provide wildlife corridors.
3.3.8 Dry stone walls are unprotected, dependent on individual landowners to maintain and restore them. Whilst a number of significant walls have been repaired, reduced agri- environment funding for wall restoration has resulted in a decline in activity.
3.3.9 Ploughing and other agricultural practices continue to damage and threaten sites including gruffy ground, a remnant of mining activity. Lack of grazing has resulted in increase in scrub and some sites being obscured from view and suffering damage from tree roots. Burrowing animals, recreational use of sites, and new development also threaten the historic environment and individual sites.
3.3.10 Climate change poses particular threats to the historic environment. Intense rainfall causes erosion of archaeological sites and increased extremes of soaking and drying heighten risk of ground subsidence and accelerate the decay of stone work. Changes in vegetation patterns may cover and damage archaeological remains. An area experiencing many of these issues is Burrington Commons. In 2011 an Archaeological Management Plan was produced for this area and used in the successful bid to Heritage Lottery Fund for the Discovering Black Down project that started May 2013.
3.3.11 Active promotion and guidance for communities on how to access and use sources of historical information is required if historic landscape character is to influence planning decisions and management of sites.