Somerset Wildlife Trust

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Mendip Hills Living Landscape

The Mendip Living Landscape encompasses some 30,000 ha and covers the distinctive range of predominantly limestone hills stretching between Frome and Western-Super-Mare. The Mendip Hills are historically a key area of Somerset Wildlife Trust delivery – it is our oldest Living Landscape and it’s extremely biodiverse, reflected in numerous designations over a relatively small area. Within the Living Landscape there are 47 SSSIs totalling 2,214 ha; 4 Special Areas of Conservation (North Somerset and Mendip Bats, Mells Valley, Mendip Woodlands and Mendip Limestone Grasslands SACs) and 2 National Nature Reserves. Local Wildlife Sites cover 2,341 ha, while the Trust’s own nature reserve holding extends to over 700ha (over 50% of the Trust’s landholding is in Mendip). The central and western parts of Mendip are designated as an AONB.

Somerset Wildlife Trust’s vision for the Mendip Hills is of a landscape where wildlife flourishes across this charismatic range of hills. Our nature reserves are vital to an ecological network of grasslands, heathlands and woodlands that protect wildlife and enable it to thrive and move through the landscape. Local business and industry play a major part in protecting and enhancing wildlife and local authorities and other decision-makers see a wildlife-rich landscape as a valuable and attractive asset for the local economy and work to protect and enhance it for people and wildlife. Mendip’s local communities are proud of their wildlife-rich parishes and are active in looking after them.

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Key habitats and species of importance in Mendip are the species-rich limestone grasslands and associated insect fauna that these support. 26 species of butterflies have been recorded on our nature reserve at Draycott Sleights alone. Woodlands exist on steeper slopes, screes and ravines across the hills. The Mendip Woodlands SAC is a cluster of several ash dominated woodlands with a rich variety of other trees and shrubs, including small-leaved lime and they are the home of the scarce hazel dormouse. The diversity of bat species is remarkable and it is likely that most, if not all, 17 breeding species of bat are found in Mendip. In the Mells valley there is an exceptional breeding population of greater horseshoe bat, with the maternity roosts having about 12% of the UK population of this species. In the limestone karst scenery of gorges and sink holes and underground landscape of numerous cave systems, are large numbers of hibernating sites for bats. The heaths and acid grasslands support populations of adder. 

Our nature reserves protect some of the best examples of all these habitat types, where the major challenges for the reserve teams are getting the right level of grazing in our grassland reserves to encourage species diversity, whilst fighting a constant battle with invading scrub.  We manage our meadows in a traditional way, through a fine balance of grazing and cutting for hay, we manage our woodland nature reserves to keep a balance of light and shade; density and openness of the understory and the right amount of deadwood. We carry out traditional coppicing to encourage regrowth of hazel that suits the dormouse population.  Some of our Mendip reserves in the Cheddar Gorge area are key visitor attractions and we work in partnership with other organisations to encourage people to visit and experience nature at its very best.

Another pivotal strand of our work in Mendip is working at a parish scale with local communities. We have explored innovative approaches via our Magnificent Meadows project that facilitate involvement of local people in the management of their grassland, be it a churchyard, village green, school playing field or road verge. Helping people to understand how fragile and scarce meadows are nationally, and that every small action helps to reverse the decline of these iconic habitats.