Cavers dive in to ultimate plumbing job
A million years after glacial meltwater first carved Cheddar Gorge, a group of cavers have completed what could be the ultimate plumbing job.
Members of caving clubs across the Mendip area have spent six months clearing silt, tree trunks and other debris that had stopped water draining underground, leading to floods last winter that made the road in the gorge more closely resemble the periglacial river that carved it.
The project has now been hailed a success, with the voluntary efforts helping keep costs down to just £2,500, and yesterday cavers joined wildlife experts and representatives from councils and Cheddar Caves at a grill placed to keep the cave system clear.
Working in bitterly cold water and being bitten by insects was an everyday experience for the team as they worked to clear one of the upstream sinkholes near the main entrance to the cave system known as Longwood/August sink.
Speaking at the gorge's Black Rock nature reserve yesterday, Linda Wilson, who helped co-ordinate the project, said: "This was a massive task. For most of the project we were either working in very cold water or covered in mud, being eaten alive by insects, but everybody did their bit on time and we got the job done."
The gorge has been prone to flooding during heavy rain. In 1968, cars were swept away and last winter, a torrent that ran down the B3135 damaged the road and closed it for more than two weeks.
In February, Mrs Wilson, conservation officer for Charterhouse Caving Company, which co-ordinates the maintenance efforts of the various Mendip caving clubs, offered the services of volunteers from the caving community for the clear up.
Permission was also sought from Natural England to build a permanent dam in place of the temporary structure and to allow work to take place in Longwood Valley Sink to replace the crumbling metal oil drums in the entrance with a new plastic pipe.
Cavers were joined in their work by staff and volunteers from the Somerset Wildlife Trust, with management and costs split between Sedgemoor and Somerset councils, Cheddar Caves and Gorge and the caving company.
Julie Cooper of Sedgemoor District Council said: "This project has been brought to a successful conclusion on time and under budget. This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of those involved. All of the volunteers and partner agencies have worked really well together to keep the project on track."
Somerset county councillor David Hall said: "This is a great example of what can be achieved by local authorities working together with the community. Everybody played their part and the volunteers deserve a huge amount of credit."