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The Wessex Hillforts and Habitats Project

An aerial view of Hambledon Hill, Dorset covered with a thin layer of snow and low clouds
Aerial view of a misty Hambledon Hill | © National Trust Images / John Miller

Encouraging nature to thrive whilst also protecting a hillfort’s important archaeological features can be a tricky balance. 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.

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 three different counties.

To mark the successful completion of the project we are launching the Wessex hillforts digital visitor's guide. This guide brings to life the nature, beauty and history of our hillfort heritage.

Download a pdf of the Wessex Hillfort Guide.

As part of our Hillforts and Habitats project, and thanks to an award of £114,000 from Historic England, thirteen majestic iron age hillforts and 332 hectares (820 acres) of archaeology and priority habitat have been improved, and four hillforts (Hod Hill, Pilsdon Pen, Lambert's Castle & Coney's Castle) have been removed from the Heritage at Risk register.

Two volunteer rangers work on netting erosion repairs on the slopes of Hambledon Hill, Dorset
Volunteer rangers working at Hambledon Hill | © National Trust Images / Clive Whitbourn

Project successes

The success of the project is due to the hard work and commitment of the 'Hillfort Hero' volunteers and ranger teams. In all weathers they carried out the condition monitoring surveys for archaeology and undertook the scrub and rough grassland management and erosion repair works, reversing the damage which had placed the hillforts on the Heritage at Risk register.

'Wessex hillforts give everyone an opportunity to step back in time and imagine the lives and livelihoods of our ancestors' says Project Manager Marie McLeish. 'Often standing in prominent isolation in the landscape, you can get a sense of the hillforts positional power whilst enjoying panoramic views across the countryside.

Hillforts are special places to visit, where you can experience and observe nature throughout the seasons. We hope this guide will inspire you to discover, explore and enjoy them.'

'The joy of the hillforts comes from being with likeminded people in such special places with spectacular views,' says Volunteer, Sue Hillier. 'Hearing the skylarks, admiring the cowslips and feeling we are doing something worthwhile.'

'The news that these wonderful places are now in fine condition is a great outcome for all those who have worked together to deliver the exemplar Hillforts and Habitats Project,' says Archaeologist, Dr Martin Papworth. 'Now visitors can see and better appreciate the ancient qualities of these high fortress settlements while enjoying nature and panoramic landscapes that surround them.'

'[This is] one of the best collaborative projects Historic England and the National Trust have achieved in the South West,' says John Ette of Historic England. 'Great management and people skills have inspired great confidence with a project that was complex with many twists and turns. It has continued to inspire as well as created new confidences on what we can achieve together.'

A huge thank you to all of our volunteers, staff and partners who have worked hard to help nature thrive, whilst looking after these historic sites of important archaeological interest, for everyone to enjoy.

A quote by Ruth WorsleyNational Trust Volunteering and Community Involvement Officer
An aerial view across Hambledon Hill with light frost, Dorset
View across a frosty Hambledon Hill | © National Trust Images / John Miller

The project at Hambledon Hill

Hambledon Hill and Hod Hill in Dorset date from 5,500 to 2,000 years ago. At Hambledon an Iron Age hillfort was built on the main hill. The defences can still be seen today and together with its three ramparts encircling the hill it's one of the most impressive archaeological earthworks in southern England.

However, due to scrub encroachment and erosion, urgent action is needed to protect it for the future for everyone.

Conservation work

The work carried out ranges from erosion repairs to paths and ramparts to improving fencing so that cattle can graze in the summer and sheep during the winter.

Volunteers help with ragwort removal in the summer months, and there will be green hay spreading at some sites to enhance the diversity of wildflower populations.

The work also includes scrub removal, fencing and improving access to visitors. This will result in better care of chalk grassland habitat and help attract more wildlife as well as butterflies.

Archaeological features including long barrows and round barrows will be better protected when the threat of root and scrub damage has been removed.

Other hillforts involved in the project

The other Dorset hillforts to benefit from the grant include Lambert’s Castle, Coney’s Castle, Pilsdon Pen, Lewesdon Hill, Eggardon Hill and Badbury Rings. In Wiltshire: Cley Hill, Figsbury Ring, Whitesheet Hill and Park Hill Camp will also benefit.

Want to hear more?

For more information on the Wessex Hillforts and Habitats Project please get in touch:

Hambledon Hill, Dorset

Discover more at Hambledon Hill

Find out how to get to Hambledon Hill, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

Our partners

Historic England

The public body that looks after England's historic environment.

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People's Postcode Lottery

Supported by the players of People's Postcode Lottery.

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