Special Qualities

September Blog 9/12

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.

Rocks are Dull


Rocks are quite dull and difficult to bring to life in an exciting way. They don’t do anything on our human timescale, they operate on a clock we struggle to get our little minds around through forces we struggle to comprehend. Studying them for a living must a be a struggle! Wait though, if we do begin to understand them they help us with some really important problems like energy and water use, mineral resources, crops and farming and adapting to climate change. And they’re the source of many adventures!

Did you know the Mendip Hills are the birth place of geological mapping? In the early 1800’s William Smith worked as a surveyor for the Somersetshire Coal Company, he realised that by studying fossils and the rock layers they were in he could predict other rock layers as they were laid down in a pattern. His first map of the geological layers around Bath was published in 1799, over the next few years he polished his new technique of showing the geological layers through different colours, then in 1815 he produced the first map of the entire country. To see the whole map click here.

So, the Mendip Hills play an important part in the academic study of geology. Rocks may seem a little dull sometimes, even we must admit that! We’re lucky we have lots of ‘ologists nearby and those that travel from far and wide to bring the rocks of Mendip to life. This conglomerate of geologists answers our call every year to help put on the Mendip Rocks programme of events. We have a formation of professors, experts and informed locals to lead you on walks, talks and tours that will interpret the significance of our local rocks to life before your eyes.

For eight years now we’ve been able to access quarries and sites you can’t normally get to. We get that quarries in the protected landscape of the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty are contentious. The Mendip quarries produce twelve million tonnes of stone a year, employ two thousand people, and have an annual turnover of £150m.

Prof Iain Stewart

Our understanding of geology has been expanded by quarrying and in some cases amazing cave systems have been opened increasing our knowledge of archaeology. But they are literally digging away the area. Wildlife has adapted in some instances to the quarries but in other areas it will have impacted on species. There are many arguments for and against, the best thing would be to go on one of the quarry tours and see for yourself.

Seeing geology up close, from the exposed seams at Ubley Warren through to the intimate Ebbor Gorge, is one of the 12 special qualities of the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These 12 qualities define the naturally beautiful and nationally protected area.

Rocks can be dull, unless you get up close and see how they relate to your life. “Selling Plant Earth: Communicating geology to the public” will be the very subject Professor Iain Stewart from many television programmes talks about on 12th October at the Somerset Earth Science Centre. Hear a real expert tell you why rocks aren’t dull.

To book on to the Professor Iain Stewart event click here. Or take a look at the Mendip Rocks! 2019 events programme.

Read our previous Blogs:

January #mendipwater (PDF Download 62KB)                                July #mendipviews (PDF Download 115KB)
February #mendipplateau (PDF Download 140KB)                         August #mendipridge (PDF Download
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.