Special Qualities

July Blog 7/12

There are 12 special qualities you need to understand and experience on the Mendip Hills. Each month in 2019 we’ll be introducing you to one of these special qualities. Individually they are important, together they are what makes Mendip an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Does beauty exist if no-one’s looking?


It’s a deep and philosophical question but it’s at the heart of our ‘special qualities’, the elements that make up an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. People walk up to the top of Crook Peak to look out, and people look at the Mendip Hills from afar because they make such a dramatic contrast to the flat surrounding countryside.

Our nation has a rich tradition in valuing views, not in monetary terms, but at a higher level where we intrinsically appreciate the ‘beauty’. As a species we’re curious, we like to see things from different angles and perspectives. How many times have you walked up a hill and thought ‘you can see my house from here’ and still been surprised and excited. Seeing our landscape from afar provide us with elevated 🙂 emotions inside.

Rising from the Somerset Levels the distinctive Mendip Hills with its limestone ridges and scarp slopes are the perfect viewing platforms. The AONBs most popular visitor areas tend to have the best views out. From the southern edge you can see Glastonbury Tor, the Quantock Hills AONB and on to Exmoor National Park. If the weather’s bad you’ll be lucky to see the nearest drystone wall! But that’s part of the fun.

I’d argue that the Somerset Levels and Moors are more visually interesting because they have the backdrop of the Mendip Hills looming ever larger the closer you get. Views in to the Mendip Hills are just as important as views out. That’s why we look at planning applications ‘in the setting of’ the AONB as they can have an adverse affect even if they’re not in the boundary.

It’s hard putting an economic value on something we know deep down is valuable. A healthy, properly functioning natural environment is the foundation of sustained economic growth, prospering communities and personal wellbeing. The Mendip Hills AONB has a wealth of natural capital and the benefits we get from the AONB’s attributes and processes (both natural and cultural features) are often described as ‘ecosystem services’.

Taking account of all the economic and non-economic benefits we get from ecosystem services enables decision makers to exercise judgement about how we use our environment.  Such an approach is often called an ‘ecosystems approach’. In all considerations, it is important that decisions value the natural capital and ecosystem services of the Mendip Hills AONB to the economy.

That’s all academically interesting but we know emotionally and physically you’ll feel better for a walk up one Mendip’s hills to take in the view. Let’s celebrate these views and prove beauty does exist as lots of people are looking, if you share an image online use #mendipviews to let everyone else enjoy your view.

To read more about how we’ve fought for our views over the years read ‘The Fight for Beauty’, Fiona Reynolds, Bloomsbury.

Read our previous Blogs:
January #mendipwater (PDF Download 62KB)
February #mendipplateau (PDF Download 140KB)
March #mendiparchaeology (PDF Download 114KB)
April #mendipchewvalley (PDF Download 104KB)
May #mendipgrasslands (PDF Download 211KB)
June #mendipadventure (PDF Download 219kb)

What Are The Special Qualities Of The Mendip Hills AONB?

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 that create the Mendip Hills sense of place and identity are:

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. Romans and Victorians left a mining landscape that nature is reclaiming.

Stockhill Forest and East Harptree Woods are places where you can still see the old mining landscape.

A tough landscape famous for adventure and getting in touch with nature


The geology has created incredible opportunities for caving, climbing and cycling. But the tranquillity allows quieter activities like bird watching and simply walking.

Burrington Combe is a great place to start your adventure.

Distinctive limestone ridge


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.

Sparsely populated plateau


Settlements of Mendip stone along the spring line where the water emerges from the underground. Dark skies give you an incredible view of the stars at night and a sense of tranquillity.

Priddy is the only village on the plateau and sums up the tough character of Mendip.

Diverse and visible geology


Ranging from Devonian to Jurassic in a relatively small area making it one of the best areas in the country to appreciate the relationships between geology, landscape and natural history.

Ebbor Gorge will get you up close and personal to the rocks.

The Caves


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

Burrington Combe is the safest place to see cave entrances without getting muddy. If you want to go further contact an outdoor adventure company.

The limestone aquifer


Feeding the reservoirs of Cheddar, Chew Valley and Blagdon lakes providing habitats of local and international importance for birds.

Chew Valley Lake is designated a Special Protection Area for bird species.

The Chew Valley


Is the sheltered, farmed landscape with fields divided with hedges, that contrasts the windswept plateau.

Drystone walls


That criss-cross the plateau dividing the farmland grazed by sheep, beef and dairy cattle. The walls are a vital lifeline for wildlife like adders, they are perfect for basking on and make a safe way of moving from one place to another.

Steep south-facing slopes of flower-rich limestone grasslands


Come to life in the summer.

Crook Peak and Wavering Down are spectacular places where you can move along these slopes and look out across Somerset

Ancient woodland combes


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

Step into Kings Wood to get a taste of these wooded combes.

Views towards


The Mendip Hills from Exmoor, Quantocks, the Somerset Levels and Moors and Chew Valley.

Views out

Including across the Severn Estuary to Wales and the Somerset Levels to Glastonbury Tor and the Somerset coast.

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

For current work on the AONBs Landscape Character Assessment, Special Qualities and sensitivity studies go to our Planning page.

The special qualities are those aspects for which the area is designated and are the priorities for management.