For this week’s column, I want to talk about the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, (AONB), one of 46 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
AONBs cover 18% of the countryside and include 12,000 miles of footpaths and bridleways. The land within them is protected by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, conserving the area to enhance its natural beauty. To become an AONB, Natural England considers a number of ‘natural beauty’ factors, such as the landscape and scenic quality, relative tranquillity, and the cultural heritage (e.g. archaeological remains).
The Mendip Hills AONB was established nearly 50 years ago, in 1972. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) funds up to 75% of their core costs and five partner local authorities, including Mendip District Council, pay a proportion of the rest. This Council supports the AONB both financially, and in its vision, and also plays an active role within the Mendip Hills AONB Partnership, alongside the neighbouring local authorities and other interested bodies.
I’ve always felt extremely fortunate to live on the Mendip Hills – the views never fail to take my breath away! The ‘Hills’ cover a total of nearly 200 square kilometres, with 87 of those falling within Mendip District Council’s area. They are home to two National Nature Reserves and many Sites of Special Scientific Interest, being richly diverse in their habitats and wildlife.
The varying landscapes incorporate the lakes of the Chew Valley, an undulating plateau around Priddy, the limestone caverns at Wookey Hole, dramatic gorges and wild, rocky outcrops. Drystone walls criss-cross over the area, which is rich in archaeological remains. And not forgetting the ancient and exceptionally hardy rare breed ‘Soay’ sheep who roam the hills, and the herd of free-roaming feral goats that delight visitors and locals when spotted at the roadside, or precariously perched on the cliffs of Cheddar Gorge!
The area is perfect for a range of popular leisure activities such as walking, cycling, horse riding, caving, climbing and fishing. They are a major draw for visitors from all over the country, which can bring many challenges for the management of the area in terms of discarded rubbish and the erosion of pathways.
Another big challenge for the AONB is ash dieback – a fungus that affects between 60-90 percent of ash trees. That’s where the District Council can help. I am very happy to report that we have agreed to provide additional funding to the Mendip Hills AONB in order to plant more than 500 trees there.
The trees will be planted by the AONB’s dedicated volunteers around Ebbor Gorge and Rodney Stoke National Nature Reserve, to make the woodland areas bigger, better and more connected. Good news for the Mendip Hills – and very much in line with this Council’s climate and ecological responsibilities.
If you want regular updates and news about the many leisure activities and volunteering opportunities available on the Mendip Hills, visit: www.mendiphillsaonb.org.uk.
If you have any questions for me, please get in touch. My Facebook page is: @Ros.Wyke, and my email is: [email protected].
Written by Cllr Ros Wyke, Leader of Mendip District Council
Please get in touch either on my Facebook page @Ros.Wyke or you can send me an email: [email protected].