3.8.1 Understanding the purpose of designation, what makes this AONB special, with the need for sensitive management is crucial to the delivery of this Management Plan. People must have the opportunity to experience, enjoy and learn about the AONB and why it is special. The AONB Partnership plays a key role in raising awareness of the AONB, largely through the AONB Unit. The AONB Unit provides information on request, a web site, e-newsletter and various other publications including the AONB Visitor Guide. In addition to these there are Tourist Information Centres and other visitor outlets and partner web sites
3.8.2 Making people feel welcome and providing a high quality experience is central to encouraging people to appreciate, realise opportunities it offers and be involved in the care of the AONB.
3.8.3. The AONB hosts a number of programmes of events including the annual Heritage seminar, Mendip Rocks and Mendip Hills Festival of Archaeology as well as projects such as Quarry Faces that all promote research and learning that both assist in raising understanding, awareness and encourage participation.
3.8.4 Numerous local colleges and universities use the area for study and research projects. The AONB Unit has supported student research projects and partnered colleges to assist conservation projects including work with Bridgwater College on Black Down and Bath Spa Geography undergraduate students.
3.8.5 The local communities demonstrate a strong appreciation for the area. Most villages have a local history group and or run a traditional annual event, or have undertaken a conservation project. However there is great potential to do more and use people’s interest and develop skills to manage the AONB. Assisting communities to influence decisions and contribute to the protection and enhancement of the AONB through better understanding of the designation, its boundary and special qualities is recognised.
3.8.6 Increasing people’s knowledge and involvement amongst under-represented groups, particularly young people, the elderly and those with disabilities requires targeted approaches. Cheddar Valley Access Group has devised easy going trails in the area and the AONB is already used by various bodies to bring adults and young people with disabilities out to enjoy the area and/or participate in conservation tasks organised with site owners.
3.8.7 The Mendip Hills AONB Young Ranger scheme established in 2005 provides a structured programme of training and countryside experience for young people from surrounding schools. Modelled on the EUROPARC Junior Ranger scheme the AONB is part of the EUROPARC Atlantic Isles initiative to develop a UK Young ranger network
3.8.8 The People and Places Project (2008 – 2010) provided opportunities for volunteering via partners the National Trust, Somerset Wildlife Trust, Natural England and the AONB. This evolved to establish a joint Volunteer Coordinator post with the Quantock Hills AONB to run a programme of volunteer practical tasks and coordinating the AONB Volunteer Rangers and Young Rangers. Other partners including National Trust, Wildlife Trusts and Mendip Society continue to run volunteer activities on their sites.
3.8.9 There is currently a fragmented approach to use of the Mendip Hills for peoples health and well being by the health sector. Developing new partnerships through the local authorities Public Health and Well being Boards is an opportunity to seek to address this. (see also Recreation, Access and Tourism Objective R4).
3.8.10 Maintaining and developing existing volunteer programmes and schemes such as the AONB Young Rangers scheme is a challenge with reduced funding but are vital to the areas well being.
3.8.11 There are further opportunities to share research and learning tools as often when completed or published, research and learning stays with the particular education body, individual or organisation yet shared it could assist wider understanding of the AONB and its special qualities.
3.8.12 There is a need to encourage more residents to understand and support the purpose of the AONB through their involvement in local activities including neighbourhood plans to conserve and enhance the AONB (see also Development and Transport Objective D4