Cavers and conservationists are being presented with an award by Cheddar Parish Council for work which has prevented flood water damaging Cheddar Gorge again, this winter.
In 2012-13, unprecedented rainfall caused severe flooding, as water that would normally disperse into the caves beneath Mendip, poured through Somerset Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves above the gorge.
The road was damaged and remained closed for several months, as repairs could not take place while a stream was still flowing through Black Rock Gate.
But a partnership between SWT, Charterhouse Caving Company and other organisations saw major flood relief works undertaken, last year.
And those efforts are being recognised at the Annual Parish Meeting in April.
Somerset Wildlife Trust’s West Mendip Reserve Manager, Neil Watson said: ‘While we maintain the beautiful nature reserves above ground at Black Rock and Long Wood, the subterranean network of caves is managed under licence by the cavers.
‘The project to reopen an old entrance to the cave system has involved many organisations and dozens of volunteers have given up their spare time.
‘It’s a great example of partnership working that has already shown real benefits to the community in and around Cheddar and will, hopefully, continue to do so.’
It was in February 2013 that local cavers Rich Witcombe and Clive North rediscovered the entrance to a short section of cave passage known as Longwood Valley Sink, which had been hidden under the bank of the valley for two decades.
Initially, a temporary dam was created to divert the flow of floodwater down the sinkhole. Since then, work has included clearing the upper swallet of stones, leaves, silt and tree trunks, plus additional works at Longwood Valley Sink, including the installation of a three-metre pipe as an access tunnel and the creation of a permanent dam to ensure that rain water pours underground in bad weather.
The project was completed in late September but work continues to remove debris from winter storms and maintain the cave entrance.
Charterhouse Caving Company’s conservation officer, Linda Wilson said: ‘It was a massive task. For most of the project we were either working in very cold water or covered in mud, often both, and then when the weather improved we were eaten alive by insects.‘But we got the job done on time, which was good, because about six weeks later, flood pulses started hitting the valley again.’
Cheddar Parish Council’s annual meeting is at Hannah More Cottage, on Thursday April 17 at 7pm and is open to the public.
Photograph © G Price