Natural England - Ebbor Gorge NNR

Ebbor Gorge NNR

Ebbor Gorge NNR is a largely wooded site occupying a prominent position on the southern escarpment of the Mendip Hills.

Ebbor Gorge NNR

County: Somerset

Main habitats: Woodland

Why visit: Ebbor Gorge sits within the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is part of the Mendip Woodlands Special Area of Conservationexternal link.

The reserve is cut into two valleys: Hope Wood Valley containing an active stream and the dry, limestone Ebbor Gorge. The woodlands are predominantly ash, but also contain oak, wych elm, field maple, whitebeam, beech, hornbeam and hazel. The humidity in Hope Wood promotes the growth of ferns and funghi. Over 250 species of mosses, liverworts and lichens have been recorded on site, many of which are considered rare.

Star species: In the spring bluebells, wood anemone and dogs mercury carpet the woodland floor, whilst the site also contains a substantial assemblage of bryophytes including the rare Bryum canariense and very rare Amblystegiella confervoides.

Small areas of calcareous grassland also occur on some of the rocky outcrops and plateaus of the reserve.  Grazed by rabbits these important pockets support a varied sward containing common rock-rose, fairy flax, marjoram, wild thyme, common milkwort and quaking grass.

The mixed age of the woodland gives a good canopy structure and as such encourages many species of butterfly.  Most notable is the nationally scarce white-letter hairstreak, whilst species such as the chalkhill blue and brown argus have been recorded on the limestone grassland. 

The geological interest of the site also benefits mammals and importantly the cave systems provide hibernacular roosts for rare lesser and greater horseshoe bats.

Managing the reserve

Management of Ebbor Gorge is kept to a minimum, with specific areas designed for non-intervention. At other locations, rotational coppicing is undertaken along with the creation of graduated woodland edges to benefit insects and rare woodland plants.

To protect areas of limestone grassland and control scrub growth, grazing and mechanical mowing is occasionally carried out.


Tectonic activity over 270 million years ago forced a layer of rock known as the coal measures beneath a layer of older limestone. Over time, rainwater slowly dissolved the limestone to form caves and other features, while the impermeable coal measures caused the formation of the stream. The gorge was created over thousands of years by summer melt water cutting down through the former cave systems.

The geological interests of the reserve have played a big part in its historical use. Archaeological investigations show that the caves found in the gorge have had human occupation from as far back as the Neolithic period right through to the Roman occupation of Britain. Bones, tools, ornaments and cooking utensils have been found on the site and are now displayed at Wells Museum.

The nature of the Gorges terrain means that it differs in character from the surrounding landscape. Unlike the largely open surrounding landscape of large parliamentary-enclosed fields, the reserve itself has seen only limited enclosure of the ancient woodland and some minor attempts to mine coal. A small area of the reserve was enclosed by a parliamentary act during 1793-95.

The site is now owned by the National Trust, but leased and managed by Natural England.

How to get there

We encourage the use of sustainable transport whenever possible.

By cycle

The reserve is near Route 3external link of the Sustrans National Cycle Network.

By train

The nearest train stations are Highbridge and Burnhamexternal link and Castle Caryexternal link.

By bus

Bus services run to Wells and Wookey Hole. See the Traveline SWexternal link website for details.

By car

Follow signs for Wookey Hole from the A371 in Wells. From Wookey Hole, follow the small minor road towards Priddy.

The reserve car park is situated approximately one mile up the hill from Wookey Hole. There is a six and a half foot height barrier to the car park.

On foot

Two major trails pass near the reserve, Monarch's Wayexternal link and the Mendip Wayexternal link.

Visiting the reserve

A display centre with panels giving information about the reserve is located close to the car park. NNR information leaflets are provided from a dispenser.

The reserve has two way-marked routes: a three kilometre 'Main Gorge Route' and a shorter 'Woodland Ramble'. A short circular path, with a viewpoint into the Hope Wood Valley and suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs starts at the car park. Several public rights of way also pass through the reserve.

The nearest toilet and refreshment facilities are located in Wookey Hole, Wells and in Priddy.

School and community groups

Although the reserve has no educational facilities, it is used for field studies by school, college and university groups. For more information, or to arrange a guided walk, please contact site staff on 01458 860 120.

Want to get involved?

There are many opportunities for people interested in volunteering and learning new skills like habitat management, species protection, construction or surveying. Contact the Natural England site office on 01458 860 120 for more details.

Visit our section on volunteering with Natural England.

Further information

For more details about the reserve, contact site staff on 01458 860 120 or email