Looking after the Cerne Giant

Volunteers helping to rechalk the Cerne Abbas Giant

How many people does it take to look after Britain’s largest chalk giant? What keeps our teams busy throughout the year to keep him in tip-top condition? And how much chalk do you need to keep him visible for miles around? Find out about our work looking after the Cerne Giant, now over 100 years in our care.

Re-chalking the Cerne Giant

The Cerne Abbas chalk giant after being re-chalked September 2019.

Re-chalking

Every 10 years or so, 17 tonnes of chalk are packed into the 460 metre outline of the Giant. This work keeps the edges sharp, removes any weeds, prevents discolouration and keeps the Giant visible for miles around. During the Second World War the Giant was covered to prevent him being used as a landmark. Since then he has been visible again, and the white lines are re-chalked each decade - a process that takes days of work by National Trust staff and volunteers.

Volunteers working on the Cenre Giant

A gargantuan challenge

Standing at 180ft tall, re-chalking Britain’s largest chalk Giant is challenging in many ways, not only due to his size but because of the sheer steepness of the slope he’s on. The first job is to dig out all the old chalk before hammering in 17 tonnes of new chalk by hand.

A volunteer working on the rechalking of the Cerne Giant

Saving the Giant from the elements

It’s important to pack the chalk as tightly as possible, to save it from being washed away by rainwater. Once the chalk is as packed in as it can be, the Giant will then be left alone, and tampered with as little as possible. We're constantly reviewing how best to look after the giant so that he can be enjoyed by visitors for many years to come. The impacts of climate change, should we experience more frequent and severe rains, may mean it requires more frequent chalking.

" The dating of the Giant was only possible because the National Trust has preserved and maintained the figure, which otherwise might have been lost to history."
- Mike Allen, Independent geoarchaeologist (May 2021)

Keeping the Giant in tip-top condition

Keeping the grass short enough so that the Giant can be seen, in tandem with maintaining a flower-rich chalk downland can be a tricky balance to find.

It takes a team of National Trust staff, volunteers and a herd of sheep to keep the Cerne Abbas Giant in tip-top condition. We’ve put together some facts on what keeps them busy throughout the year:

  • Around 50 sheep graze on the Giant's enclosure, usually between May and June. By far the safest and most efficient way of mowing the hill and maintaining the chalk downland habitat.

  • After every grazing period, our team of rangers and volunteers have to hand brush the sheep poo off the Giant, so that the chalk layer is maintained in white colour and free of nutrients. 

  • To maintain the visibility of the giant, our rangers trim the edges of the figure once during the summer - all 920metres of him!

  • The half a kilometre of fencing around the giant has to be in tip-top condition to prevent rabbits and cattle getting in which could cause significant damage to the protected monument. 

  • The chalk grassland where the Giant lies is of national and European importance for the many rare chalk downland plants and invertebrates that thrive here.

It is through your support that we can carry out these works and continue to look after the Cerne Giant – thank you!