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Our work on the estate at Kingston Lacy

A low morning sun shines across misty parkland grass and through two leafless trees
Morning sun on the estate | © National Trust Images/Mark Wratten

We’ve got ambitious plans for this corner of Dorset. Over the next decade we aim to develop the mosaic of habitats and create a biodiverse, resilient environment for wildlife. Yet it will also offer visitors plenty of opportunities to engage with nature, discover its beauty, and be inspired to help us protect it for future generations.

From the Iron Age tribes that inhabited Badbury Rings to today’s arable farmers, humans have been shaping this landscape for thousands of years. Now, it’s our turn to protect and improve, in consultation and partnership with the people who live, work and play here.

Over the next decade we will connect existing habitats and create new ones, restore wetlands and improve water quality, and manage visitor facilities in order to welcome people to these astonishingly beautiful places without damaging the wildlife that lives here.

With wildlife ranging from skylarks to smooth snakes and habitats as varied as chalk grassland and wood pasture, there’s no single answer to some of the challenges. There are many – sometimes conflicting – issues to consider: protecting sensitive archaeological sites; providing leisure facilities; working with other organisations; and, of course, funding the work.

Here’s a taster of some of our existing work. Check back regularly for updates.

Reeds on a river bank
The River Stour is an important habitat | © National Trust images/James Dobson

Tree planting

The National Trust aims to plant 20 million trees by 2030. In 2021, we completed a major tree-planting project at Kingston Lacy, one that aims to restore rare habitats, boost biodiversity and mitigate the effects of intensive farming. More than 5,000 trees were planted in three distinct areas. This follows extensive planting at Abbott Street Copse in 2019.

The first of the three planting areas, The Down, was previously farmland but had been left to grow wild for a year or so. The scrub that developed has been enhanced with four plots (totalling 4.8 acres/1.95 hectares) of native broadleaf, creating a habitat that mixes woodland, scrub and open grassland. This will be used as part of Kingston Lacy’s naturalistic grazing programme by Red Ruby Devon cattle and Portland sheep.

Boosting diversity

Near White Mill, a narrow, three-acre/1.21-hectare strip of land has been planted with 800 trees. The area is part of a flood plain, so classic woodland species for wet and boggy areas, such as willow, alder and birch, have been used to boost the diversity of the current grassland. This planting is designed to help reduce surface water and arable pollution run-off, while also creating a biodiverse and carbon-secure woodland.

At Bear Wood, 1,300 trees have been planted across a 7.3-acre/2.98-hectare site, with the aim of extending an ancient semi-natural woodland. Traditional species (hazel, oak, wild cherry, lime) have been used to enhance woodland cover, while the grazing animals and the development of a wood pasture system will increase biodiversity. In addition, a new five-mile permissive path provides benefits to the local community.

It's hoped that these three planting sites will create places across the Kingston Lacy estate that people and wildlife can enjoy for years to come.

The Queen's Wood

In autumn 2023, in collaboration with local conservation charity Trees for Dorset, we created The Queen's Wood at Shapwick. We planted 96 oaks, one for each year of the life of the late Queen Elizabeth II. This woodland will be extended with other native species to create a diverse woodland for all to enjoy.

A purple flower with an insect on it
Wildflowers attract all sorts of insects | © National Trust/Clare Gascoigne

Nature-friendly farming to restore biodiversity

When Bishops Court Farm in Shapwick came back into the management of the Kingston Lacy estate, we recognised it as a wonderful opportunity to provide a haven for wildlife and increase biodiversity. Our conservation work on this 850-acre site will include the restoration of chalk grassland, planting more trees and scrub and re-creating traditional water meadows.

The land will still produce food and, through grazing with heritage livestock such as our herd of Red Ruby Devons, will regenerate the chalk grasslands, rich in wildflowers and butterflies, that were once common throughout Dorset.

In 2023 the land entered a Countryside Stewardship scheme. Fields have been seeded with chalk grassland seed collected from Salisbury Plain to help establish yellow rattle, scabious, salad burnet and wild thyme.

We're also planting more than 100 hectares to create wood pasture: trees and shrubs include beech, field maple, dogwood and buckthorn. The areas will initially be fenced off to keep the young trees from being nibbled by deer, and a perimeter fence and installation of new water pipes and troughs will help us graze the area in the next few years. Look out for our Red Ruby Devon cattle in the landscape.

The public will also benefit from better access to the land through an improved footpath network. This restoration of a healthier, more beautiful, natural environment will kickstart initiatives to link up habitats across the estate and beyond. Keep an eye out for updates as this wide-ranging project develops.

Supporting tenant farmers

The Kingston Lacy estate has 12 tenanted farms. One of these is Allen Valley Farm, where father and son team David and Richard McKie maintain the last dairy farm on the estate. Their 450 cows produce 2m litres of milk a year, which is pasteurised and goes out to eight vending machines locally.

In 2022 the Trust completed a major investment in new winter housing for the cows. Though the cows graze outside during the summer, the farm’s 400 acres are low lying, bordering the River Allen; the land is too wet for the cows to stay outside all year round.

The Trust also grant funded 1,800 trees and hedge plants to improve the hedgerows on the farm. Hedgerows are important for wildlife; not only providing food and shelter but also creating corridors for creatures to travel safely.

A bunch of field maple stems
Field maple whips ready for planting | © National Trust Images/Iolo Penri

Wetland restoration: River Stour

Historic dredging practices on the River Stour have created a steep-sided channel, with very little diversity of habitat. A river with different flows and depths provides different habitats, which are important for a biodiverse mix of fish and insects.

We’re working in partnership with Wessex Water, the Environment Agency, Dorset Wildlife Trust, Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the Stour catchment project. The project aims to enhance biodiversity, working with farmers, landowners and communities to improve habitat and water quality, as well as reducing flooding risks.

We’ll be updating you on our proposals as soon as possible.

Mire restoration: Holt Heath

Mires are wet and boggy areas, and important habitats for plants, animals and birds, such as the bogbean, cotton grass, marsh gentian, bog bush cricket and curlews. Peatland is also an important carbon store.

At Holt Heath, the mire system and surrounding wet heathland suffered from historic peat cutting. This left an extensive network of ditches, which created excessive run-off and meant the mire was much drier than desired, especially during the summer months.

With the support of Natural England, we are restoring the mire at Holt Heath to support the nature that relies on this area to survive and thrive. Back in 2019 we installed a series of plugs within the ditch network, which slows the passage of water running off the heath and encourages it to form desirable shallow pools. The plugs are a mixture of wooden shuttering and ‘peat blocks’ from the surrounding mire. In total, there are 56 plugs installed at 50m intervals along approximately 3.50km of ditches. This contributes to the restoration of around 98 hectares (242 acres) of the mire.

There'll be more work coming in 2024, as we are delighted to be part of the Dorset Peat Partnership, which is leading a million-pound project to rewet and restore 172 hectares of fragmented and damaged peatlands across Dorset. Watch this space!



Nature-friendly farming

Bishops Court Farm, Shapwick came back in hand after the retirement of the tenant.

Wildflowers at Newton Point meadow, Dunstanburgh and Newton Coast
Wildflowers are an important part of nature-friendly farming | © National Trust Images / Stephen Morley

You might also be interested in

Print, linocut, Home Farm, Kingston Lacy, Dorset by John Liddell (b.London 1924).

How Home Farm helps our conservation work at Kingston Lacy 

Home Farm on the wider estate is home to the special Red Ruby Devon cows and rare breed Portland sheep. Find out why you’ll see them out on the Kingston Lacy estate.