The Society’s views on these issues is given below. If you wish to support these, or comment in any way, you are welcome to use the feedback form on the “Contact Us” page, clicking the ‘Planning/Development Issues’ button there.
1. AONB Extension
Whilst designation is now the responsibility of the Countryside Agency and has to be confirmed by the Secretary of State, further AONB designations are not amongst the Countryside Agency’s priorities. However, the Agency would act if the local authorities were to present a convincing case backed up by evidence of local consensus.
Most of the extension area falls within Mendip District Council’s area, and the Council has resolved at least twice in the last 12 years to seek designation, but has not pressed a locally supported case. On 18th March 2005 the Mendip Hills AONB Partnership agreed to support a review of the Mendip Hills AONB boundary
The Society has been invited to prepare a case to the Countryside Agency by 1st April 2005 for the extensions outlined above. This has been sent to the Agency, and a copy of the Case, and its covering letter can be seen by using these links.
Within the AONB most quarries are cut into the scarp slopes around the plateau, and are very visible as scars. The full scale of quarrying in the East Mendip Hills can only be judged from the air, as quarries tend to be “let down” into the plateau. Sub-water table working in the east is a major worry in cavernous limestone. Once coined the “Sacrifice Area”, the East Mendip Hills are in grave danger of irreversible damage, whilst AONB designation should ensure that no new quarries are started in the West.
However, long-term planning consents issued just after World War II ensure that Batscombe Quarry has an assured future in spite of ripping a huge scar out of the escarpment above Cheddar on a scale to rival Cheddar Gorge.
The Society campaigns for a more environmentally sustainable approach to aggregate production, for no new quarries and for restrictions to limit the damage of old consents and to provide more tolerable conditions for the local community. It wishes to see the industry relinquish dormant and nearly worked out sites such as Sandford, Tadbury, Dulcote and Westbury.
The Mendip Hills are full of holes that some think are suitable for waste disposal and infilling, as karst solution processes result in features, such as caves, closed depressions and swallets. Quarrying and mining has occurred since at least Roman times.
Infilling with inert, farm, household or other waste, whether licensed or not, must be treated with extreme caution, for not only can the results be unsightly, but they have the potential to seriously affect the intrinsic character of the Mendip Hills.
Perhaps the filling of swallets causes the most insidious effects. These are open features caused by the collapse of the surface after solution of the limestone, and lead directly to cave systems underground. In some cases streams may sink directly into swallets, in other cases the swallet may be dry in normal circumstances, but take surface flow underground after heavy rain. Groups of swallets often occur within closed depressions, large areas of lower-lying land on the plateau with no valley out.
Filling these features not only means that diversity in the landscape is lost, making Mendip less interesting, but that access to cave systems may be blocked and that caves and risings (the major springs around the scarp bottoms) may be polluted. Mendip is a major water source, famous for providing Bristol as well as local towns and villages with pure water. Dumping rubbish in swallets and old quarries is tantamount to directly interfering with the public water supply.
Dumping in old mine working and quarries also results in a lost of interest, particularly as some of the surface workings are Roman or medieval in age. Rakes are long channels cut in the plateau surface where lead ore bodies have been removed, and gruffy ground describes areas of humps and bumps where mine workings, minor shafts, buddles (ore separation floors), leats (mine watercourses) and old mine dumps coalesce.
Whilst it is generally unlikely that planning permission will now be given for such infilling, a permission was given for in 1999 to fill a rake against archaeological advice. Moreover fly tipping, disposal of building waste and attempts to level fields to improve agriculture continue, particularly away from public roads and tracks. Enforcement against the lack of planning consent is difficult to achieve, although there have been notable successes by the planning authorities. Actual removal of material, once tipped, is rarely achieved.
Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole are two location in the Mendip Hills that have been major tourist attractions ever since the fascination with limestone scenery, showcaves and gorges was started in Victorian times.
Originally both sites were served by the Cheddar Valley Railway, but changing habits and closure of the railway in 1963 mean that almost all tourists now access the area by car, although many still come as part of a coach excursion or tour. Nowadays many might think that a car is essential to see the delights of the plateau, the villages or to get to the start of walks. This is not so!
Green tourism is about enjoying landscapes, whilst leaving as little pollution as possible and helping communities by buying local goods and services. Using buses, by cycling and walking allow visitors and locals to really get to know the Mendip Hills. For good opportunities see Getting there
The Society believes that the Mendip Hills can accommodate responsible tourists, who do not pollute or expect to drive their vehicles to every attraction or the start of every walk. This policy supports the AONB principle that these areas are not designated to encourage open-air recreation (unlike national parks), but may accommodate recreation that is not harmful.
Responsible tourists will take time to enjoy local facilities, such as pubs and shops, and therefore bring trade that will help maintain local services. More and more tourists are expecting quality, local food and products and are prepared to pay a premium for good service. But such tourists will scorn poor and indifferent quality and presentation: souvenirs made in the Far East and sold in Mendip and just won't do!
The success of tourism is often judged by the numbers of visitors: the Society believes that this accounting is fundamentally flawed. Success is better measured by business turnover: Maybe the same number of visitors more widely spread over a longer season each spending more money will not only protect the Hills, but those who come will better enjoy the area.
The report is provided in the form of an Adobe Acrobat PDF files (to make display accurate and quick). The whole report is a large file of ca. 8 MB, so we have split it into the sections shown below. Allow time for a section to load. This can be up to 5 minutes, as forewarned below.
The Countryside Agency is promoting the idea of Quiet Roads and Greenways, where the minor road network is made safely available for quiet recreational use by vulnerable users such as walkers and riders whilst careful use by the local community is maintained. The Society and the Mendip Hills AONB Service are encouraging the local highway authorities to set up a quiet roads network in the Mendip Hills AONB, and to consider linking bridleways to make more complete routes through the use of road verges. Part of the work will require calming cross-Mendip road traffic away from the "A" routes, and creating "gateways" into the AONB, seeking the co-operation of motorists and advising speed limits. Such measures would make the Mendip roads safer for local communities, particularly for school children and farmers driving stock and slow-moving farm machinery.
For more information follow the link www.quiet-roads.gov.uk