BIODIVERSITY OF EASTERN MENDIP
SITE: GREAT ELM
Sub-site: Vallis Vale
The steeply wooded sides of Vallis Vale support an ancient woodland
community of nationally restricted distribution, although it is
best developed in the Mendip Hills. In spring, the woodland is
at its best, when a profusion of woodland herbs flower. Ash (Fraxinus
excelsior), pedunculate oak (Quercus robur) and
the local small-leaved Lime (Tilia cordata) dominate the
canopy, with hazel (Coryllus avellana) and other typical
limestone understorey shrubs beneath. The steep and rocky valley
sides are notable for their abundance of ferns, especially hart's-tongue
(Phyllitis scolopendrium) and ancient woodland herbs include
wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides), yellow archangel
(Lamiastrum galeobdolon) and solomon's-seal (Polygonatum
The Mells Stream and Egford Brook meet in Vallis Vale, and the
fast-flowing and clean calcareous waters support many riparian
species. The American signal crayfish thrives in the river
here, burrowing into the muddy banks. Some, like dipper (Cinclus
cinclus) are uncommon in east Somerset, and a keen-eyed visitor
may also spot kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) which also breeds
nearby. Vallis Vale also supports important populations of several
species of damselfly, including banded demoiselle (Calopteryx
splendens) and beautiful demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo).
Sub-site: Fussell's Iron Works and Wadbury Valley
This old iron works beside the Mells Stream is one of the main
reasons for designating the Mells Valley as a site of international
ecological importance. Long disused, the stone building, and its
labyrinth of flues and tunnels is now home to a large roost of
greater horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum), and
to a lesser degree, lesser horseshoe bats (R. hipposideros).
These rare bats are relatively widespread in Mendip caves and mines,
and, unlike other British bats, can easily be recognised by their
free-hanging roosting habit.
Mosses, liverworts and small wall ferns thrive in the diffused
light and high humidity of the ruins. Brittle bladder-fern (Cystopteris
fragilis) is found here close to the southermost edge of its
British range, whilst the diminutive wall-rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria)
and curious rustyback (Ceterach officinarum) can be found
anchored in the mortar of the walls.
The narrow valley is densely wooded, and interesting herbs that
can be found near the old iron works include stinking hellebore
(Helleborus foetidus), and the creeping alternate-leaved
golden-saxifrage (Chrysosplenium alternifolium), with
its masses of attractive yellow flowers in spring in boggy ground.
Limestone boulders on the steep valley sides support great masses
of moss, especially Thamnobryum alopecurum and Anomodon
viticulosus, and hart's-tongue is abundant on the ground,
with its glossy, strap-like leaves.
Dippers and kingfishers are frequent users of the stream, feeding
on small fish and invertebrates.
SITE: TORR WORKS
Sub-site: Asham Wood
Asham Wood is one of the largest ancient woodlands in Mendip,
and has an unusually diverse range of woodland communities, reflecting
marked differences in underlying soils. Together with other ancient
woodlands nearby, Asham Wood forms part of the Mendip Woods Special
Area of Conservation. Two of these communities have a restricted
national distribution. Ash and field maple (Acer campestre)
are dominant over limestone slopes, whilst old stools of small-leaved
lime, which is a notable tree characteristic of some older ash
woods on Mendip, are abundant at the south-western end of the wood.
Heavy acid soils over the Devonian beds support pedunculate oak,
ash and coppiced hazel.
Extensive coppicing-with-standards management in the past has
created many interesting stub and pollard forms of oak, lime, ash
and field maple, and opened up clearings and glades in which a
rich ground flora flourishes. The wood is very beautiful in spring,
when carpets of flowers bloom before the canopy closes over. Dog's-mercury (Mercurialis perennis), wood anemone (Anemone
nemorosa), bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and
ramsons (Allium ursinum) are typical, and the wood also
supports a long list of herbs that are indicators of very old woodland.
herb Paris (Paris quadrifolia), solomon's-seal and toothwort
(Lathraea squamaria) thrive on the woodland floor, and
the uncommon meadow saffron (Colchicum autumnale) is also
widespread in parts of the wood.
Lower plants and fungi thrive in the sheltered and humid conditions.
Many trees, boulders and banks support luxuriant mats of mosses
and liverworts, including the distinctively flattened and wrinkled
moss Neckera crispa , and the bright green Anomodon
viticulosus. Soft shield-fern (Polystichum setiferum),
hart's-tongue, broad buckler-fern (Dryopteris dilatata)
and male fern (D. filix-mas) form attractive leafy shuttlecocks
on the woodland floor, whilst many older trees and stumps sport
epiphytic ferns, lichens and fungi of many kinds.
Numerous woodland birds are present, and visitors may see or hear
great spotted-woodpecker (Dendrocopos major), spotted
flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) and buzzard (Buteo
buteo). A rich invertebrate fauna includes some notable butterflies,
including purple hairstreak (Quercusia quercus) and silver-washed
fritillary (Argynnis paphia).
SITE: STOKE ST MICHAEL
Sub-site: St Dunstan's Well
Just east of Stoke Lane Quarry, thin mineral soils support a species-rich
limestone meadow, where the sward has never been treated with fertilisers
or herbicides. The old pasture is at its best in summer, when many
different species of herb flower alongside grasses and sedges.
Meadow oat-grass (Helictotrichon pratense), sheep's-fescue
(Festuca ovina), yellow oat-grass (Trisetum flavescens),
are common, along with glaucous sedge (Carex flacca),
spring sedge (C. caryophyllea) and less commonly, heath-grass
(Danthonia decumbens). Orchids are frequent; early purple orchid
(Orchis mascula) flowers in late spring, followed in June
by the pale pink spikes of common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza
fuchsii). Common rock-rose (Helianthemum nummularium)
and wild thyme (Thymus polytrichus) are prostrate sub-shrubs
that thrive in well-drained, warm soil, and a host of typical calcicolous
herbs grow alongside: devil's-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis),
fairy flax (Linum catharticum), and salad burnet (Sanguisorba
Significant numbers of bats, including the nationally rare greater
and lesser horseshoe bats, hibernate in the cave systems nearby.
Sub-site: Edford Wood
Edford Wood is an ancient semi-natural woodland, with clay-rich
soils, supporting a very interesting and attractive woodland flora.
In the past, many of the trees and hazel bushes have been coppiced,
allowing a rich ground flora to develop on the woodland floor.
Wetter woodland along the banks of the Mells Stream is characterised
by a canopy of alder (Alnus glutinosa) , with tussocks
of tufted hair-grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) below. Monk's-hood
(Aconitum napellus) is an unusual native in this woodland,
growing in wetter areas with water avens (Geum rivale),
wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) and ramsons.
Dog's-mercury carpets higher ground under an ash canopy, in association
with many of the ancient woodland herbs that are characteristic
of old Mendip woodlands. Notables include toothwort, a curious
plant that parasitises hazel and other trees, wood vetch (Vicia
sylvatica), solomon's-seal and early purple orchid.
Sub-site: Harridge Wood
Harridge Wood has an interesting history, and is thought to be
very old. In the mid-twentieth century, much of the old broadleaved
woodland was cleared and planted with conifers and poplars, although
evidence of the older wood remains in wet areas, along the woodland
edges and in isolated patches throughout the wood. Old low pollards
of ash, pedunculate oak and, unusually, alder remain, known locally
as 'stoggles'. Old hazel coppice is also a dominant feature in
Where the wood retains its semi-natural character, there is a
very rich woodland flora. The distribution of species closely reflects
underlying variation in geology, soil wetness and pH. Much of the
wood overlies clay slopes, dissected by streams, and ferns are
a distinctive feature of the woodland floor, with many different
species found. Large shuttlecocks of lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina),
Male fern and broad buckler-fern are abundant in very wet places.
Drier ground supports a profusion of ancient woodland herbs, commonly
bluebell, pignut (Conopodium majus) and Dog's-mercury.
The diminutive moschatel (Adoxa moschatellina), with its
unique 'town-hall clock' flower can also be found. Local plant
species include sanicle (Sanicula europaea), nettle-leaved
bellflower (Campanula trachelium), adder's-tongue (Ophioglossum
vulgatum), herb Paris and toothwort. Common stinkhorn (Phallus
impudicus) and other fungi can also be found in autumn.
Cattle-grazed pasture is juxtaposed with the wood in places, and
this attracts foraging bats, including rare greater and lesser
horseshoe bats, which roost in caves and buildings nearby. Daubenton's
bats (Myotis daubentonii) forage along rivers and streams,
particularly in the western arm of the wood. Old oak standards
in the wood itself may also be important to roosting bats.
Bird-life in Harridge Wood is very diverse, and includes green
woodpecker (Picus viridus), goldcrest (Regulus regulus),
nuthatch (Sitta europaea) and dipper. Mammals are also
well-represented by badger (Meles meles), roe deer (Capreolus
capreolus) and muntjac (Muntiacus reevesii) along
with wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) and other widespread