Protecting more of the Stonehenge Landscape
The Trust cares for over 2,000 acres of the landscape surrounding the Stonehenge monument and, over the last twenty years, has carried out one of the largest grassland reversion programmes in Europe. As a result, it is now home to brown hares, skylarks and Adonis blue butterflies, as well as wildflowers such as sainfoin, cowslip and prickly poppy. Protecting these important habitats for future generations and playing its part to bolster ecological corridors is a priority for the Trust.
An additional area of land of over 170 hectares is now being brought under the direct care of the Trust. With support from funders including the National Heritage Memorial Fund the Trust is now able to protect forever a site which contains a substantial part of the Stonehenge Avenue, the Bronze Age route leading up from the River Avon.
As well as the Avenue, the land includes many other globally important monuments, including the Neolithic feasting pit at Coneybury, thought to be a meeting place for the first farmers and local hunter gatherers a thousand years before Stonehenge was built. Many of these monuments were threatened by cultivation techniques including ploughing which causes significant damage to the archaeology. As a result of this acquisition, the Trust will return the new area of land to pasture, enabling these globally important monuments to be removed from Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register and protecting them for future generations.
The increase in land under its care in the World Heritage Site marks another important step towards the Trust achieving its long-held ambition to return the land it owns in the Stonehenge Landscape to species rich chalk grassland. More than 80 per cent of the UK’s chalk grassland has been lost since the Second World War and around half of what remains today is in Wiltshire. It is a unique landscape, which is home to rich and diverse plant and insect life.
Rebecca Burton, Regional Director at the National Trust, said: “Stonehenge is one of the world’s most extraordinary places and we are working hard to restore the landscape. The additional land now in our care contains internationally significant archaeological sites - including part of the Stonehenge Avenue, a Bronze Age processional way leading from the River Avon to the stone circle. We are really pleased that these monuments have now been removed from the Heritage At Risk Register.
" We have been working for years to revert more of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site to chalk grassland which, as well as protecting the archaeology, will allow nature to thrive. It will mean people will be able to experience a landscape that would have been more familiar to the builders of Stonehenge."
The Trust’s archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury WHS, Dr Nick Snashall, said: “Arable farming can be hugely damaging to archaeology. Year after year erasing more and more of the story of the people who built and used the awe-inspiring monuments in this globally important landscape. So, it’s fantastic news that we’ve been able to take the single most important step in protecting these sites in decades, by bringing this additional land into our care. By returning them to species rich chalk grassland we’re both making a home for nature, and ensuring the stories this landscape holds will be here for everyone to discover and enjoy long into the future.”
Dr Simon Thurley, CBE, Chair of the National Heritage Memorial Fund said: “We at the National Heritage Memorial Fund are proud to help the National Trust secure the future of more of the Stonehenge Landscape, one of the world’s most famous and important archaeological sites. Thanks to our support, prehistoric monuments at risk will be safeguarded, ecological habitats will be protected and improved, and in time, greater access will be possible.”
Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said: “The Stonehenge landscape contains an extraordinary and diverse range of archaeological sites and monuments which are of both national and international importance. Some of these sites close to Stonehenge were vulnerable to continued arable cultivation including Bronze Age round barrows and part of the Stonehenge Avenue – the ceremonial monument linking Stonehenge to the River Avon. We are delighted that the National Trust has been able to secure the conservation ownership and control of this land leading to the removal of six key monuments from our Heritage at Risk Register and the protection of other important archaeological remains. This will also help facilitate wider access to the landscape, a further step towards one day in the future the exciting prospect for people to once again walk the ceremonial route along the Avenue.”
The Trust has already begun work to revert the land back to chalk grassland in a transition that lasts for the next three years. Recreating species rich chalk grassland in an archaeologically sensitive landscape takes time and careful planning. It’s a complex process that can take several years to show results – so we are working with our stakeholders, contractors, and specialist advisors to make this happen. This will ensure the protection of the archaeology, the best outcomes for nature, and - in the future - increased access for people.. In time the Trust hopes to designate more of this land as permissive open access, in the same way it has done for much of its land across the Stonehenge Landscape, so more people can enjoy it.
The first step is to end arable cultivation, sow the land back to grass and start to prepare the fields to be grazed by cattle. Our aim is for the landscape to feel more open once again, so you can expect to see a lot of the old fences being permanently removed, and new fencing installed where it is essential – such as around the perimeter of our land. In time, once the grassland is established enough to allow access, this will make walking through and exploring the landscape easier for all. We will source wildflower and grass seeds from existing species rich chalk grassland and this seed will be used to get the newly created chalk grassland off to a good start. Our team will look after the land, with the help of our partners and stakeholders, to ensure the conditions and grazing allow the habitat to thrive. Though the archaeological protection of converting to grassland is immediate, restoring the habitat is a long-term project which could take many years before we see the full benefits for nature.