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If you like rolling hills, wild wetlands, coastal plains, soaring cliffs, deep gorges and patchwork fields you are in luck as Somerset has them all. You will hear the County referred to frequently as a place of contrasts and this is mainly because of its incredibly diverse landscape ranging from limestone ridges to clay valleys, heathland and forests.
A rural County, agriculture has played a large part in shaping the landscape with the flat land of the Somerset Levels and Moors being drained centuries ago to produce rich pasture. Britain’s biggest gorge, largest underground river and highest inland limestone cliffs are to be found at Cheddar which is in the Mendip Hills, just one of 4 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Somerset. In fact another, the Quantocks Hills, was the first area in England to be given the designation back in 1956. The Blackdown Hills being relatively unspoilt are a nationally important landscape.Of the 33 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, four are in Somerset. Add to that the National Park we have – Exmoor – the Nature Reserves and scores of Sites of Special Scientific Interest and it becomes clear this area has plenty worthy of protection so we can all enjoy it.
The Quantock Hills was the first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to be designated and is among the smallest. What it may lack in size, it more than makes up for in diversity and delights. Also on the smaller side and perhaps little known outside the region are the Blackdowns which have a geology unique in Britain giving rise to some rare flora.
Cranborne Chase is predominantly in Dorset and Wiltshire but does merge into the chalkland of Somerset while there is no missing the majesty of the Mendips where the stunning gorges guard mysterious caves.
As if all these magnificent rocky outcrops were not enough, Somerset and Exmoor can boast a fascinating coastline to set off their rare moors and levels.
In the far west of the County is Exmoor which is a National Park famous for its wild ponies, literary links and dark skies. With the highest sea cliffs in England, Exmoor offers spectacular views and its woodlands swoop down to the shore in places.
With such diversity of landscape it follows that Somerset is blessed with a variety and abundance of wildlife seldom matched elsewhere. According to Visit Somerset ambassador and naturalist Simon King, the area is typified by astonishing natural riches. He has travelled the globe filming wildlife but has chosen his Somerset home to base his Wildlife Whisperer website and webcams.
Across the County there are more than 100 sites of Special Scientific Interests as well as nature reserves and ample opportunities for bird watching whether you want to see waders, warblers or wonderful displays of starlings and raptors.