Gruffy Ground in the Mendip Hills

Uneven, undulating, ground at Ubley Warren Nature Reserve, Cheddar, Somerset. © Karen Netto (Andrews)

Gruffy is a dialect word little understood outside Somerset. It immediately brings a picture of uneven ground to a local’s mind. Gruffy ground is a feature of Somerset’s Mendip Hills. It’s a man-made landscape that Nature has reconquered.

The word gruffy comes from the now obsolete words gruff and gruffer, meaning mine and miner respectively. Gruffy describes land pock-marked by old mining activity. Open-cast mining goes back 2,000 years in the Mendip Hills. Mining evidence traces back to Iron Age and Roman times. The Mendip Hills have long been recognised for their rich minerals and especially limestone for construction work. The top of the Mendip Hills is sparsely populated and some land remains contaminated by past works. Gruffy ground creates a rich environment for wildlife.

Ubley Warren Nature Reserve is an example of a former mining site that Nature has long reclaimed. The old workings are covered by an uneven turf. As you walk, you may see the occasional darting tail of a rabbit. You may hear quick escape movements of lizards ahead of your step. Birds dart and hover overhead. Many butterfly species flutter in the undisturbed, wild landscape. The soil is too thin and rocky for agriculture, although cattle and sheep graze quietly as you pass by. Crouch down and you will find small plants in the limestone grassland, including nationally rare plants. Some plants are remarkably able to adapt to contaminated land.

The nearby Velvet Bottom Nature Reserve also has gruffy ground. There are even the remnants of a slag heap. It was here that I recently found Meadow Saffron, Colchicum autumnale, hidden in the long grass.

Meadow Saffron, Colchicum autumnale at Velvet Bottom Nature Reserve, Cheddar. © Karen Netto (Andrews)

As a botanist, it is fascinating to note how plants and trees gradually take over former open-cast mines and disused quarries.

Gallery of Images

References and Further Reading

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