The Mendips IPA
Location: Somerset, east of Weston-super-Mare and north of Cheddar and Wells.
Grid Reference: ST 503 541
The Mendips IPA has been recognised as one of 165 Important Plant Areas in the UK.
The key features of this IPA are:
Semi-natural calcareous grasslands, sometimes with scrub;
Ashwoods of slopes, screes and ravines
Rising sharply out of the flat landscape of the Somerset Levels and Moors, the Mendips are a range of low-lying limestone hills located to the southwest of Bristol in northern Somerset. In the west their windswept plateau is punctuated by spectacular dry valleys, gorges, and impressive rocky outcrops, while the steeper slopes are home to flower rich grasslands and wooded combes. This is classic limestone karst scenery with cave systems and underground rivers. In contrast, the eastern Mendips are a gentler countryside with rolling hills, wooded valleys and extensive hedgerows. The area is noted for lichens, vascular plants and habitats interest.
Many rare plants grow on the rocky outcrops and steep scree slopes of Cheddar Gorge. The nationally rare little robin, Cheddar pink and Cheddar bedstraw occur here, the latter two species being endemic to the area. Nationally scarce species include slender tare, dwarf mouse-ear and rock stonecrop. Mossy saxifrage and lesser meadow-rue occur here, but nowhere else in Somerset. These outcrops support a diverse lichen community. Also found on the rocky hills are lesser dodder, white horehound, spring cinquefoil and honewort. The Mendip Woodlands are an important example of woodland on carboniferous limestone. Although mostly dominated by ash, a rich variety of trees and shrubs are present, including elm and, locally, small-leaved lime. Ferns characteristic of this woodland type, such as hart’s-tongue and shield-ferns are common. On the banks of the river flowing through Edford Wood, monk’s-hood, a nationally scarce plant, grows in abundance. Other ancient woodland species include wild daffodil, herb Paris, solomon’s-seal and meadow saffron. The meadows and pastures contain a high cover and diversity of herb species including dyer’s greenweed, cowslip, pignut and green-winged orchid. The drystone walls that divide the pasture, and are a well-known feature of the Mendips, are of botanical importance as they support important populations of the nationally scarce wall whitlowgrass.