The Big Count
The Big Visitor Count took place on Saturday 4th May. Our volunteers and staff counted 2,589 visits at 16 locations, across a 4 hour period between 10am and 2pm. We were at sites across the AONB, from Bleadon Hill and Crook Peak in the west to Ebbor Gorge and Dear Leap in the south-east. With 12 more sites in-between, including the nature reserves on the plateau, the lakes, forests and, of course, the iconic Cheddar Gorge. As expected, the most visits were recorded at Chew Valley Lake and Cheddar Gorge, with high numbers also seen at Kings Wood. The statistics will be shared with partners and land managers. Each year, using the same process and locations, we will repeat the count.
We welcomed 4 students and 2 teachers from Westhaven School in Weston-super-Mare for a week – a school for young people who experience complex barriers to learning. The students learnt about the AONB and the role of the Unit – becoming a Planning Officer, Support and Comms Officer and a Ranger for the day! The students reported an increased level of understanding and confidence after their time with us, and we benefited from lots of great help and enthusiasm!
Practical Tasks & Projects
Our volunteers have continued to install cross-drains on Black Down to slow rain run-off and reduce erosion, and restore vulnerable dry stone walls near Charterhouse. We ran a 2 day training course with the Dry Stone Walling Association where 11 of our volunteers learnt dry stone walling principles and refreshed their practical skills and health and safety knowledge.
Chew Valley Catchment: Bristol and Avon Rivers Trust have been undertaking survey work and landowner engagement through a project funded by the AONB Unit. This will identify areas where work can be undertaken with farmers along watercourses to improve water quality and reduce flood risk
The AONB Unit had a stand at the Outdoor Family Festival on Saturday 18th May alongside The Mendip Society. We promoted the AONB brand to 2,000 visitors and engaged children with our mini dry stone wall activity and their parents with information on the Mendip Hills.
Top of the Gorge Festival
The largest adventure festival in the area returns on the 14th-16th June. Organised by the National Trust, supported by the AONB Unit, over 2000 people will celebrate the amazing adventure on offer and its important role in the visitor economy of the area. The AONB Unit are organising the school’s Rock-Sports Day on the 14th where Banwell Primary will be defending their title as Gorge Champions.
Wild Day Out
As part of Naturally Healthy Month, we will be running the Wild Day Out event in conjunction with The Mendip Society at Slader’s Leigh nature reserve on Sunday 26th May. This is a free event with booking open to members of the public – activities will include guided walks, pond dipping, den building, species identification, bug hunting and wild land art. Our Young Rangers will be helping out with this event.
The Mendip Way
Working with North Somerset Council, we’re hoping to finalise the design of a new interpretation panel of this promoted route at the start/end in Uphill. We’ll also be looking at where other signage and improvements can be made along the route, and another key promoted walk in the area – the Limestone Link.
Volunteers will be continuing our restoration of dry stone walls, with another training course planned for June. We will also be carrying out various conservation tasks at Tania’s Wood nature reserve, owned by The Mendip Society, and bracken crushing at Burrington Ham.
The Mendip Way is a 50 mile long-distance footpath crossing the Mendip Hills from Uphill to Frome that is sometimes referred to in two sections:
The West Mendip Way that is largely in the Mendip Hills AONB starts near the Bristol Channel at Uphill and climbs the Mendip Hills escarpment onto the Mendip plateau and across the top of Cheddar Gorge and down to Wells.
The East Mendip Way continues from Wells to Frome passing to the north of Shepton Mallet and close to some of the limestone quarries.
The AONB Unit is working with partnership with the Mendip Society, Rotary Club and Mendip Ramblers to enhance the Mendip Way through route improvements, improved information, signage and promotion.
The whole route has been waymarked with new signs.
A comprehensive route survey has been carried out identify additional signage and access furniture requirements.
Full route guide with description and directions in 2 versions eastwards and westwards) have been written.
GPX data has been gathered for use in downlaodable route guides.
Mendip Way pages on the AONB website including downloadable route guides and further information for visitors.
Continue marketing the route.
Carry out further route improvements through volunteer task programmes.
Supporting local tourism businesses – raising the profile of the Mendip Way and enhancing the experience for walkers on the route will attract more visitors to the area and encourage longer length of stay. The project will aim to improve the tourism offer and support rural economic growth. Ideas to be explored with businesses include:
• Using the website to link the route to attractions, accommodation and local food providers.
• Networking accommodation providers to offer luggage transfer and other visitor services
• Offering bespoke Mendip Way holidays offering guided walks and other activities.
• Promoting family friendly accommodation and activities for family members not walking the full route
The ninth Mendip Rocks! programme will run this year from 10th August to 20th October. The annual season of events will celebrate the 450 million year geological history of the Mendip Hills and is provided by the AONB Unit, Somerset Earth Science Centre and The Mendip Society.
This seasons 20+ events included: cave visits, guided walks, tours of working and disused quarries, arts workshops, geological field visits and much more.
This was a three year project (2013-2016) funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project was designed to raise awareness of the wildlife and archaeological value of the Black Down and Burrington Commons through activities, events and training.
In recent years erosion and damage to specific features and the site in general has occurred through a combination of recreational use, sensitive site conditions and weather.
The legacy of Discovering Black Down will be to ensure local community and user group volunteers continue to play an active role in the care and conservation of this area’s heritage.
The project has now come to a close but the web site Discovering Black Down will remain available.
Download the Discovering Black Down app for maps, memories and lots more