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3.6 Land Management

Fields near Priddy © Mendip Hills AONB Unit

3.6.1 The Mendip Hills landscape is largely a result of the way the land has been shaped by different land uses and maintained by farmers, landowners and estate managers over the centuries. As such, those with a stewardship role in the Mendip Hills are an integral part of conserving and enhancing the landscape and managing natural resources (see Natural Resources 3.5)

3.6.2 Farming is the major land use with 75% (14922 ha) of the AONB being agricultural land. Of this farmed area 82% is temporary or permanent grass and only 9% is arable. Grazing livestock is the predominant holding type. There is also some dairy and arable farming on the plateau. This includes Yeo Valley Foods, a national dairy producer who have land on the plateau and in the Chew valley. Beef and sheep grazing are concentrated on the small irregular fields and remnant sheep walks (sleights) of the escarpments where the soils are thinner. There are 17,460 cattle, 21,388 sheep and 1,651 pigs in the AONB[1].

3.6.3 The area has been a target for agri environment grant schemes for over a decade with 61% of AONBs agricultural land receiving £933,010 in funding in 2013[2]. A number of farms owning traditional breeds have long been providing stock to graze land under conservation management for organisations such as the Wildlife Trusts and National Trust. Much of this land is the steep slopes and gorges with public access and where there is little benefit to the farmer but is vital to control scrub on these grassland areas.

3.6.4 The species rich grasslands provide important nectar sources for pollinating insects and are in close proximity to the arable farming of the plateau. Pollinators are critically important to the horticulture of the Strawberry Belt growing mainly soft fruit, is focused on the high quality agricultural land between Axbridge and Rodney Stoke

Proximity of semi- natural habitats and encouraging use of field margins in arable land is important to allow pest regulating species including insects, birds and mammals to move across the landscape.

3.6.5 There are a number of traditional and new orchards in the area. Thatchers Cider has recently planted slopes near Compton Bishop.

3.6.6 Increasing consumer awareness and demand for high quality products from sustainable farm management has contributed to an increase in the number of farm shops and farmers supplying direct to local businesses. Encouraging growth in this sector will benefit climate regulation and local culture.

3.6.7 Working with the local farming community to safeguard future food production whilst enhancing key ecosystem services such as biodiversity, water quality ,water regulation (flooding) regulating soil erosion and quality, pollination services and genetic diversity, geological and historic features is essential (See table of ecosystem services p14). 

3.6.8 Woodland covers 14%[3] of the AONB and significantly contributes to the landscape character and biodiversity. Half of the woodland, some of which is ancient woodland, is semi natural broadleaved woodland situated mainly on the north and south facing slopes of the hills. The Governments Forestry Policy Statement[4] recognises the value of our native and ancient woodland and the need to maintain existing ancient woodland and increase the net area of native woodland.

3.6.9 The Forestry Commission manages the conifer plantations at Rowberrow, Stockhill and East Harptree to maximise timber production and public benefits. Guided by Forest Design Plans they are gradually being transformed into more diverse woodlands. These and other areas of woodland are accessible to the public for recreation and the value to people in having this access should be recognised.

3.6.10 Biomass energy has not had been undertaken in the AONB on any significant scale to date. Existing woodland cover offers potential for production of biomass energy, and another biofuel crop Miscanthus that has been planted in a number of fields has the potential to be extended to other areas.

3.6.11 Quarrying is an important part of the Mendip economy. Callow Rock and Battscombe are the two major quarries in the AONB both extracting Carboniferous Limestone. To lessen their environmental impacts quarries are required to meet acceptable levels of noise, dust, vibration and visual intrusion. (See 3.7 Development and Transport) and work has been undertaken by Somerset County Council and Somerset Wildlife Trust to build into policy an ecological approach to restoration

Issues

3.6.12 Change in the Common Agricultural Policy is likely to see reduced funding for environmental benefit.  In addition to promoting good management of species rich priority grasslands it will also be important to encourage uptake of options that promote wildlife benefits in temporary leys. Promoting legume and herb rich swards for intensive silage production especially on the plateau should continue to be trialled as a means of increasing the permeability of large areas of agriculturally improved grassland for wildlife (following successful pilot schemes by Somerset Wildlife Trust and FWAG).

3.6.13There are woodland areas that potentially would benefit from management for wildlife, economic or recreational benefit or a combination of these. As the value of timber and wood fuel has recently improved private woodland owners may now consider sustainable management of woodland that would benefit biodiversity and landscape and the sequestration and storage of atmospheric C02.

3.6.14 Opportunities for new woodland planting are relatively limited as particularly on the plateau it needs to be in keeping with the open landscape character and on the southern scarp that is mostly calcareous grassland they are nationally important and designated SSSIs. However there may be opportunities for targeted woodland creation in appropriate locations to deliver a range of social and environmental services benefits such as mitigating surface water run-off.

3.6.15 A typical Mendip species being ash the risk of ash dieback or Chalara fraxinea affecting woodland areas is significant and will require landowners and managers to share information and monitor impact.

3.6.16 Biomass crops as with new woodland planting, siting is critical in order not to devalue other goods and services in terms of landscape character and ecological networks.

3.6.17 Although the quarry permissions to operate for significant periods into the future landscape, biodiversity and recreational use of redundant quarries needs to be considered alongside other potential provision to ensure that the way in which quarrying takes place and the after use is planned to create long term benefit and restore natural resources.

3.6.18 Continuing to ensure that conditions are applied to quarrying and any other mineral or gas extraction, if permitted, such as fracking, to minimise impacts on groundwater hydrology, including that of the hot springs in Bath is essential. (See also 3.7 Development and Transport)


[1] Defra Agricultural survey (June 2010)

[2] Natural England March 2013 Annual Figure

[3] National Forest Inventory March 2012  (2933.8 hectares)

[4] Keepers of Time – A statement of policy for England’s Ancient and Native Woodland (Defra/Forestry Commission, 2005

Land Management Objectives

LM1 Support sustainable farming to ensure it remains as the principle land and contributes to maintaining the special qualities of the AONB

  • LM1.1 Maximise opportunities to respond to and influence the Governments thinking on agricultural support payments in particular seeking a financial return for provision of ecosystems services. Details

LM2 Support and promote rural land management that conserves and enhances natural resources, including biodiversity, landscape character the historic environment and aids public awareness and enjoyment of the Mendip Hills AONB.

  • LM2.1 Carry out a survey to identify Calaminarian grassland and current state Details

LM3 Promote a sustainable woodland economy that enhances the Mendip Hills AONB woodlands and wider landscape with targeted woodland management and creation in appropriate locations supporting wood fuel and local community opportunities.

  • LM3.1 Promote the Woodland Trusts ‘Community Woodland Network’ providing information on community woodland management and ownership Details
  • LM3.2 Promote the Woodland Trust's a) free community and school planting packs - weblink: http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/en/take-part/plant-trees/Pages/priority.aspx Details
  • LM3.3 Promote the Woodland Trust's MOREwoods scheme, to help and facilitate landowners to plant trees - weblink: http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/en/planting-woodland/funding-and-planting-grants/woodland-trust-grants/Pages/default.aspx Details
  • LM3.4 Monitor ash trees for Chalara fraxinea and report and communicate information as appropriate Details
  • LM3.5 Promote Forestry Commission grants and other appropriate funding schemes eg ELMS to bring woodland into management Details

LM4 Influence the use, restoration and after use of all quarries to minimise the impact on the landscape and to be compatible with the purposes of the AONB designation.

  • LM4.1 Apply the ecological approach to restoration as set out in the SCC Somerset Minerals Plan for the Mendips Hills NCA Details