| The Mendip
Hills are famous for their wild and unspoilt character, but they
also they have a special and characteristic flora and fauna. A few
species are found nowhere else in the UK, for example the Cheddar
pink. The Mendip Hills also support nationally important populations
of other rarities such as horseshoe bats, common dormouse, purple
gromwell, starved wood-sedge, and certain mosses and lichens. Many
nature reserves and other ecologically important areas have been
designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), protected
sites that are considered to be nationally important for their wildlife and geology.
Furthermore, some sites have also been accorded Special Area of Conservation
(SAC) status, by supporting certain habitats and species that are
important in a European context.
The rich biodiversity of Mendip is the result of many complex and
inter-related factors. As each kind of habitat supports a characteristic
flora and fauna, a mosaic of different habitats as found in parts
of the Mendip Hills contributes to a greater overall diversity of
Drystone wall, with blocks of the Harptree Formation, Smitham
Hill. The wall contains sea campion, a classic species of lead workings
on Mendip but rare otherwise, wall rue, a small fern common on limestone
walls and mortar, sheep's-fescue and a polypody fern. The network
of drystone walls across the Mendips help plant species to migrate and
colonise new sites.
Human activities on Mendip have strongly influenced the landscape,
habitats and species that exist there today. The long history of
mining and quarrying has created totally man-made habitats that are
of particular value in an otherwise mainly agricultural landscape.
However, the Mendips today are sparsely populated, and the hills
have escaped the extensive modern development and human disturbance
that has characterised many lowland areas elsewhere.
Traditional land management continues to preserve rich habitats
that may have taken centuries to develop, and many wildlife-rich
sites are linked by woodland, hedges, or dry-stone walls, thereby
enabling species to move about and colonise new sites, or to maintain
Limestone habitats are particularly extensive in the Mendip Hills,
and diverse woodlands, cliffs, crags and caves are found in the gorges
and ravines of the scarp slopes — at Cheddar, Burrington, Ebbor,
and East Harptree in western Mendip, and in the Mells valley to the
east. Because many of the soils on the slopes and scarps are shallow
and rocky, they have escaped the plough, and centuries of sheep grazing
have contributed to an extensive network of flower-rich limestone
meadows. Agricultural intensification and changing land use in the
second half of the twentieth century contributed to the loss of more
than 90% of such habitats in Great Britain, so the Mendip resource
is especially important.