Wessex Hillforts and Habitats Project

Aerial view of Hambledon Hill shrouded in mist

The Wessex Hillforts and Habitats Project is striving to deliver a step change in how we care for nature and history across Dorset and Wiltshire's hillforts, whilst also inspiring communities and volunteers to connect with heritage and nature.

Walking along Hambledon Hill on a summer's evening offers breathtaking vewis

Wessex Hillforts

One of the outstanding features of the Wessex landscape is the prevalence of Iron Age hillforts across Dorset and Wiltshire. Many were built more than 2,000 years ago and all are significant landmarks. These hillforts – with their nature, history and beauty – offer visitors extraordinary experiences. Here you can step back in time and reconnect with centuries of history in the landscape, spot rare wildflowers and wildlife, walk through ancient woodland and enjoy panoramic views – sometimes spanning across three different counties.

Volunteers on the hillside ramparts at Hambledon Hill

About the Wessex Hillforts and Habitats Project

Encouraging nature to thrive whilst also protecting the hillforts’ important archaeological features can be a tricky balance to find. The Wessex Hillforts and Habitats Project is delivering a step change in how we can meet that balance, caring for both archaeological features and nature with adequate resources. The project aims to restore 11 scheduled monuments and improve some 332ha of priority habitats including chalk grassland and acid heaths, making these sites better for nature on a landscape scale. As a result, these works will help to stabilise populations of priority species butterflies such as the Adonis Blue and Marsh Fritillary, and improve conditions for wildflowers, birds and mammals including: Pyramidal orchid, Cowslip, Devil's-bit scabious, Skylark, Kestrel and Brown hare. The project has also refreshed onsite interpretation to engage visitors with these special places, and a digital visitor guide has been produced, available to download below.

The hillfort heroes

Engaging volunteers

Central to the success of the project has been the dedicated help of passionate volunteers - our ‘Hillfort Heroes’ who have been trained to carry out important condition surveys of archaeology and priority habitats. These survey reports identify key works, which are then carried forward and included within the annual works programme for the hillforts. It is this commitment and hard work from volunteers, ranger teams and countryside managers that helps to deliver our strategy for land, outdoors and nature. Managing hillforts can sometimes be challenging and time-consuming work due to their steep terrain, limited access and isolated locations. Nevertheless, these teams continue to deliver on erosion repairs, scrub removal and ensuring that appropriate seasonal grazing regimes are in place.

" A huge thank you to all of our volunteers, staff and partners who are working hard to help nature thrive, whilst looking after these historic sites of important archaeological interest, for everyone to enjoy."
- Ruth Worsley, Volunteering & Community Involvement Officer

Hillforts involved in the project

" This regional project has provided an opportunity to really focus on how best to look after our hillforts in Wessex. We set ourselves some stretching goals and have been creative in their delivery."
- Marie McLeish, Project Manager
Adonis blue butterfly

Partnerships and funding

A Special Partnership with Historic England is helping everyone connect with the archaeology, beauty and nature on our extraordinary Wessex hillforts. Their generous grant to the project of £114,000 has enabled us to deliver our shared goals to help improve people’s lives by championing the natural and historic environment. The project has also benefited from grants from the People’s Postcode Lottery - Postcode Earth Trust, and South Dorset Leader fund in 2019.

" The project has effectively challenged the way we look after our hillforts and set us on a sustainable path for the future. It is the fully funded hillfort management plans that underpin this process. A great success!"
- Hannah Jefferson, General Manager for the National Trust in North & West Dorset
Hillfort heroes

For more information on the Wessex Hillforts and Habitats Project

Please contact Marie McLeish (Project Manager): marie.mcleish@nationaltrust.org.uk or Ruth Worsley (Volunteering & Community Involvement Officer): ruth.worsley@nationaltrust.org.uk