Nature on Mendip


There are three nationally important semi-natural habitats which are characteristic of the area:
1. Ash-Maple woodlands (often with abundant small-leafed lime);
2. Calcareous Grasslands;
3. Mesotrophic Grasslands

These habitats are spread throughout the area but the woodlands and calcareous grasslands are largely confined to the steeper slopes. In addition there are areas of both acid and limestone heath, the former being largely confined to the Devonian sandstone outcrops.

Ash-Maple woodland

The majority of the ancient semi-natural woodlands found on the Mendip Hills fit into this category. They are typically found on the scarp slopes and valley sides and many have a long historical record. These woods are very diverse botanically and are the principle habitat for dormouse and purple gromwell.

Typical Plant Species in Ash-Maple Woodland include: Ash, Hazel, Ivy, Pedunculate Oak, Hawthorn, Wood Anemone, Field Maple, Blackthorn, Sweet Woodruff, Small-leaved Lime, Spindle, Yellow Archangel, Dogwood, Purple Gromwell, Wild Daffodil, Wayfaring Tree, Autumn Crocus, Wild Privet, Early Purple Orchid, Spurge Laurel, Harts-tongue Fern, Crab Apple, Whitebeam, Ivy, Wych Elm, Honeysuckle, Toothwort

Management of the woodland has been dominated by the practice of coppicing and many of the woodlands were considerably modified by the planting of oak in the 19th century.

Calcareous grassland

The calcareous grasslands of the Mendip Hills are largely confined to the steep slopes of the western and central areas. They are variable in character and change significantly in respect of their species composition from west to east.

Typical plant species of Calcareous Grassland include: Wild thyme, Fairy flax, Somerset grass, Autumn ladies tresses, White rock-rose, Sheep's fescue, Common centaury, Rock rose, Quaking grass, Yellow wort, Honewort, Heath false-brome, Stemless thistle, Green-winged orchid, Upright brome, Carline thistle, Salad burnet, Meadow oat-grass, Squinancy wort.

Calcareous grasslands are very often associated with substantial areas of scrub, particularly where grazing has reduced. Typical scrub species are hawthorn dogwood, spindle blackthorn and wayfaring tree. Areas with mixed scrub and grassland are good habitats for a wide range of invertebrates and breeding birds.

Mesotrophic grassland

Once common on the plateau and in East Mendip these habitats have been significantly reduced by agricultural improvement. There are now few large sites, the habitat being
represented mostly by a scattering of small fields. These areas remain under threat of improvement and are very vulnerable to changes in management.

Typical plant species in Mesotrophic Grassland include: Betony, Crested dog's-tail, Twayblade, Cowslip, Red fescue, Sweet vernal-grass, Green-winged orchid, Pepper saxifrage, Quaking grass, Lady's bedstraw, Common knapweed, Yellow rattle, Ox-eye daisy

Species (selection only)

Mendip has a number of individual species of plant and animal which by virtue of their restricted distribution in England deserve special mention.

This is not a complete list of species in the area but includes some of the better known ones.


Dormouse: Restricted largely to coppice woodland and scrub this species occurs in large numbers on some sites.

Bats: The nationally rare lesser and greater horseshoe bats have a number of colonies in buildings, caves and mines in the area. Other species present are reliant on suitable build
ings and old hollow trees to roost and breed in.


Peregrine Falcon: This bird has gradually recolonised the Mendips over the last 20 years. It breeds on sea and inland cliffs and also on the faces of both active and disused quarries.


Great crested newt: This species has a wide distribution across Mendip and is often found in flooded disused quarries.


Large blue butterfly: This species became extinct in the late 1970s since when a research project has been undertaken into its ecology and reintroduction. A successful reintroduction has been made to a calcareous grassland in the Mendips.

Butterflies (general): The Mendips support a large number of butterfly species, particularly on the more extensive limestone grassland and scrub sites. Species present include the national scarce pearl-bordered fritillary, Duke of Burgundy fritillary and in the woodlands. White-letter hairstreak. All these species are at low levels and highly dependent on the sympathetic management of their respective habitats.

White-clawed crayfish: This nationally rare and declining species has a small population in a tributary of the Mells River.

Higher plants

Cheddar pink: Occurs predominantly on cliff edges, rock ledges and in short turf within Cheddar Gorge. The species is confined to the Mendip Hills in Britain and is otherwise found in southern Europe.

Purple gromwell: A characteristic plant of the Mendip ash-lime woodland frequently found in clearings and beside rides.

White rock-rose: A plant of southern Europe found on coastal limestone cliffs only in Somerset and Devon.

Somerset hair-grass: Found only in the County of Somerset this rare grass is confined to rocky outcrops in the western Mendips.

Starved wood-sedge: Found only on a single hedge bank in the western Mendips, this species occurs at only one other site in England.