Special Qualities

January Blog 1/12

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.

Turn on the tap thanks to the Mendip Hills #mendipwater

Everyday thousands of people experience the effect of the Mendip Hills in their own home. If you live near Mendip or around Bristol chances are when you turn on the tap you’ll be drinking water that has landed on the hills, percolated through the limestone and been caught in the local reservoirs.

The entire Mendip Hills lies over an important Carboniferous Limestone aquifer, an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock, which makes a major contribution to public water supply for Bristol, and the surrounding area via Cheddar, Blagdon, and Chew Valley reservoirs. The Mendip aquifer also supplies the hot springs in Bath.

The three reservoirs, Chew, Blagdon and Cheddar, supply water to 1.1 million people and businesses in the Bristol Water area. Both Chew Valley Lake and Blagdon Lake are now internationally important for wildlife. Chew and Blagdon are designated as Drinking Water Protected Areas with the catchments that drain to the lakes also identified as Safeguard Zones. The Environment Agency, Bristol Water, Natural England and other partners are developing Drinking Water Protected Area Safeguard Zone action plans to address the sources of nutrients in the lakes.

A large part of the AONB is within a Groundwater Source Protection Zone due to its contribution to the public water supply. Ground water quality is generally good overall, although there is a need to reduce sources of diffuse agricultural pollution in to the groundwater and water courses and also reduce run-off and soil erosion into watercourses.

There is generally a low risk of flooding within the hills as rivers tend to flow underground in a limestone landscape, creating the stunning caves. However flooding has been experienced in the Chew Valley and Cheddar areas where underground streams and rivers emerge. If you look at a map you can see where these water courses emerge from underground as the villages are built on these ‘springlines’, look for the A371 to the south and A368 to the north.

The Mendip Hills get a lot of rain (1135mm a year on average) and this tough weather is all part of the character, but the rain and the hills provide an important ‘ecosystem service’ to the community, that’s why it’s one of the Special Qualities.

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.