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1.4 Statement of Significance – the AONBs special qualities

View from Black Down across Burrington Combe © Mendip Hills AONB Unit

Rising from the Somerset Levels are the distinctive Mendip Hills that with the lakes of Chew Valley and Blagdon form the 198sq kms that is the Mendip Hills AONB.  The special qualities [1] that create the Mendip Hills sense of place and identity are:

The distinctive limestone ridge with windswept plateau punctuated by spectacular dry valleys and gorges, ancient sinkholes and depressions, and impressive rocky outcrops. Cheddar Gorge probably the single best known limestone karst feature in Britain.

Views towards the Mendip Hills from Exmoor, Quantocks, the Somerset Levels and Moors and Chew Valley. The views out including across the Severn Estuary to Wales and the Somerset Levels to Glastonbury Tor and the Somerset coast.

A sparsely populated plateau, with settlements of Mendip stone largely confined to the spring line, retaining dark skies and a sense of tranquillity.

The diverse and visible geology that ranges from Devonian to Jurassic in a relatively small area making it one of the best area in the country to appreciate the relationships between geology, landscape and natural history.

Caves, for their wildlife, geological, archaeological importance including Avelines Hole the oldest burial site in Britain and Goughs Cave one of the most important Palaeolithic sites in Europe that provides a breeding site for Lesser and Greater Horseshoe bats.

The limestone aquifer feeding the reservoirs of Cheddar, Chew Valley and Blagdon lakes providing habitats of local and international importance for birds with Chew Valley Lake designated a Special Protection Area for bird species.

The Chew Valley -a rich farmed landscape with fields divided by hedges.

Dry stone walls that criss-cross the plateau farmland grazed by sheep, beef and dairy cattle.

Steep south-facing slopes of flower rich limestone grasslands and the area known as the Strawberry Belt of horticultural activity producing soft fruits.

Ancient woodland combes on the north and south slopes offering varied habitats of national and international importance for a wide diversity of wildlife including dormouse and bats.

Evidence of human settlement dating back 500,000 yrs. Henge monuments, barrows and hillforts through to World War 2 sites are prominent features on the plateau as are remnants of Roman and Victorian lead mining.

A landscape enjoyed by large numbers of people for a wide range of interests and outdoor pursuits including caving, climbing , cycling and quieter activities including bird watching and walking due to areas of tranquillity

Particular combinations of these special qualities form 11 distinctive landscape areas identified in the Mendip Hills AONB Landscape Assessment (1998) see map.



* Work to support the justification and definition of these special qualities in the context of landscape character and levels of sensitivity is planned in the accompanying Delivery Plan.