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Blackdown Hills: 25 years as an Area of Natural Beauty

PUBLISHED: 11:15 08 July 2016 | UPDATED: 11:15 08 July 2016

The view towards Wellington Monument from north of Milverton

The view towards Wellington Monument from north of Milverton

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The Blackdown Hills AONB is 25 years old this year and there’s something for everyone in its exciting Countryside Events programme

Travel south down the M5 to Taunton or Wellington and a dark line of wooded hills stands out prominently on your horizon. These are the appropriately named the Blackdown Hills, which were designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1991. Straddling the border of Somerset and Devon, and right on the doorsteps of Taunton, Wellington and Chard, if you’ve never visited the Blackdown Hills this is the year to discover the area. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of this nationally protected landscape, the AONB Partnership has organised a wide variety of events to suit all ages and interests. One of the key anniversary events will be a special family tea party at the Candlelight Inn in Bishopswood on 26 June – the actual designation date.

Anniversary events

Wild Walk in Quants and Buckland Wood (28 May)

The history, wildlife and management of this Somerset Wildlife Trust nature reserve will be explained.

National Moth Night (11 June)

Local experts will identify moths caught in light traps during the previous night at Park Farm, near Wellington.

Butterfly identification (12 June)

Learn about the variety of butterflies that can be found in the Neroche area of the AONB.

Grassland Management and the Lime Industry (19 June)

Walk around Somerset Wildlife Trust’s nature reserve Bishopswood Meadows.

Big Bat Survey training (24 June)

Learn to use a bat detector and help out with an important bat survey with the Somerset Bat Group at Bishopswood. Book with Somerset Environmental Records Centre on 01823 652446; info@somerc.com or see somerc.com

AONB’s 25th anniversary (26 June)

Join in the celebrations – tea party, live music, river dipping and other family activities at The Candlelight Inn, Bishopwood.

Wild Walk to Jan Hobbs & Bishopswood Meadows (9 July)

From 10.30am–12.30pm you should see a good variety of wildflowers and butterflies on these Somerset Wildlife Trust nature reserves.

Big Bat Survey (22 July)

Take part in this important bat survey based from Bishopswood but covering most of the AONB with the Somerset Bat Group. No experience necessary, but it’s advisable to come on the training workshop on 24 June. Book with Somerset Environmental Records Centre on 01823 652446; info@somerc.com or see somerc.com

Introduction to mammal tracking (17 September)

Learn how to look for and identify animal tracks and signs at Staple Fitzpaine.

Mushroom foray (15 October)

Hunt for wild fungi around Blagdon Hill and learn how to identify a variety of toadstools from the weird to the wonderful. Adults £5; under 18s £3.

Fun with photogenic fungi (16 October)

Take a close look at the amazing variety of fungi at your feet at Blagdon Hill and learn how to capture the magic of mushrooms in your photography.

Mushroom foray (22 October)

From 11am–2pm hunt for wild fungi around Churchinford and learn how to identify a variety of toadstools from the weird to the wonderful. Adults £5; under 18s £3.

Garden birds and nest-box making (28 October)

Learn about the different types of bird visiting your garden and how to identify them at the Ferne Animal Sanctuary at Wambrook. Also make and take home a free bird box.

A lichen walk (29 October)

You will be given an introduction to this often overlooked but nevertheless fascinating group, on a walk around Quants nature reserve and Buckland Wood, opposite the Marry Harriers Pub.

Mushroom foray (5 November)

Hunt for wild fungi around Wambrook. Adults £5; under 18s £3.

Carols under the Stars (2 December)

Experience the magic of the Blackdown Hills at night-time and enjoy singing Christmas music under the stars at Wellington Monument.

Winter tree identification (10 December)

Learn how to identify a range of tree species at Park Farm, near Wellington

Blackdown Hills highlights

Getting the measure of the Monument

The Wellington Monument, one of the most iconic features in the Blackdown Hills, sits prominently on the edge of the northern ridge overlooking the town. It has been under scrutiny over the past year as the National Trust commissioned a team of specialists to survey the structure at close quarters. The results will enable the Trust to look at options for its repair. At 175 feet the Monument is the tallest three-sided obelisk in the world. Built as a tribute to the Duke of Wellington, it was funded through public subscription with the foundation stone being laid in 1817 but only being finished some three decades later.

The dazzling duke

The Blackdown Hills is noted for its butterflies and a real stunner is the Duke of Burgundy fritillary, the most rapidly declining butterfly in the UK. Luck needs to be on your side to see this small, orange and brown butterfly, as the adults are flying only to the end of June and the females are extremely illusive. It’s found in scrubby grassland and sunny woodland clearings. Easier to see is the larger silver-washed fritillary that fly in woods later in the year.

If you want to learn more about the AONB’s butterflies, the Blackdown Hills Natural Futures project, supported by Heritage Lottery Fund, is running an identification and survey training day on 12 June.

Underway Mead

This is a small local wildlife site in the South Somerset village of Combe St Nicholas. Last year a group of local volunteers started working with the Blackdown Hills Natural Futures project to manage the site for wildlife. One of the first tasks was to restore the hedges that surround the site, to improve them for wildlife. The Blackdown Hills Hedge Association was called in to run a hedge laying training session.

The association runs courses on this traditional skill in the autumn/winter, which is used widely in the AONB to maintain the numerous hedges which criss-cross the landscape.

For more details log on to bhha.info

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