Cerne Giant given new lease of life

Project
Volunteers helping to rechalk the Cerne Abbas Giant

A team of volunteers has started to rechalk the Cerne Abbas giant, now in its 100th year in our care. The work, which involves packing tonnes of chalk into the 460-metre giant’s faded outline, will take place over the next couple of weeks. 

 

Rechalking the Cerne Giant

Since its last refresh in 2008, the Giant has been gradually discoloured by the weather, with weeds taking hold and blurring the previously sharp edges of his lines. He needs to be rechalked every 10 years or so, to keep him visible for miles around. 

 

A gargantuan challenge 

Rechalking the 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.  

Volunteers making over the Cerne Giant
Volunteers working on the Cenre Giant
Volunteers making over 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.  

A volunteer working on the rechalking of the Cerne Giant
A volunteer working on the rechalking of the Cerne Giant
A volunteer working on the rechalking of the Cerne Giant

We may also have to alter the timing, duration and number of sheep grazing the hillside in order to keep the grass short enough so the giant can be seen. This in tandem with maintaining a flower-rich chalk downland could be a tricky balance to find.

 

Why is the Cerne Giant so special?

It lies on high quality chalk grassland (a Site of Special Scientific Interest), which has a huge range of wild flowers including a variety of orchids, thyme, marjoram and small scabious; and is an important site for butterflies including the marsh fritillary and Duke of Burgundy.

The origin and purpose of the ancient figure – which stands naked and brandishes a 40 metre (120ft) long club - remains shrouded in mystery, with ideas ranging from a depiction of ancient gods to aiding fertility. 

" There are many different theories surrounding the giant’s identity and origin. Some claim he is an ancient symbol, perhaps a likeness of the Greco-Roman God Hercules, though the earliest recorded mention of the Giant only dates from 1694. Others suggest he was created to mock Oliver Cromwell. These are the most favoured theories but all of them have their drawbacks."
- Mike Clark from the Cerne Historical Society