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Caring for the countryside at Stourhead

Cattle grazing at White Sheet Hill, Wiltshire
Cattle grazing at White Sheet Hill | © National Trust Images/John Miller

Find out more about the work the National Trust does in caring for the countryside at Stourhead, from looking after Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) to managing protected wildlife. Also discover how you can do your bit to help.

How we care for the Stourhead countryside

Spanning 2,650 acres and a variety of landscapes, the countryside at Stourhead takes a lot of looking after. We have a dedicated team of rangers who are out caring for the estate every day.

The work of our rangers includes:

  • Liaising with, and assisting, our tenant farmers
  • Protecting the estate’s archaeological sites
  • Improving and managing environmental practices
  • Wildlife conservation and encouragement
  • Forestry work and tree surveying

Volunteer rangers

We have a fantastic team of volunteer rangers who help to manage the countryside around Stourhead. To enquire about joining the team, email us at

Managing White Sheet Hill

We look after this designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. The area is rich in pre-history, with 11 scheduled ancient monuments.

The chalk grassland of White Sheet Hill is one of the country’s best examples of unimproved pasture. For centuries, this land has been undisturbed by ploughing and has remained free from chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

The archaeological wonders of White Sheet Hill

White Sheet Hill is archaeologically diverse, with a Neolithic enclosure dating back to around 3,000BC, an Iron Age hillfort and Bronze Age barrows. Evidence suggests that prehistoric farmers met at the causewayed enclosure for markets, fairs or religious ceremonies. The hillfort is believed to have been a defensive structure, while the barrows are thought to cover the graves of wealthy people who lived 3,200-4,200 years ago.

Our management of White Sheet Hill today

White Sheet Hill is a rich habitat for many species of wildlife. However, the chalk grassland would quickly revert to coarse grass, scrub and trees if we didn’t carefully manage the site.

Working closely with local farmers, we’ve developed a flexible grazing regime to help maintain this valuable chalk grassland. We monitor the plant and animal species to ensure that diversity of wildlife is protected.

White Sheet Hill in Wiltshire
White Sheet Hill is home to many different kinds of wildlife | © National Trust Images/John Miller

Our dormouse project

In 2008, we secured funding for a survey of the entire Stourhead estate, to find out whether or not it was home to the endangered hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius).

Native to Britain, hazel dormice are honey-coloured and have a furry tail and large black eyes, making them easily distinguishable from other species of mouse. They are nocturnal animals and from April to November spend their time nesting in hedgerows and tree canopies. During the winter, they hibernate on or under the ground. Due to their elusive, nocturnal lifestyle, they are rarely seen.

Dormice are vulnerable to woodland and hedgerow management operations, and as a result are thought to have declined by half over the past century. The hazel dormouse is now strictly protected by both UK and European law, and you need a licence to be able to check nesting boxes and handle them.

Our project

With the help of a team of volunteers, our ranger and licensed handler Tamsin Holmes built 167 dormouse nest boxes and erected them in targeted woodland areas across the Stourhead estate. Box checks first took place in May 2009, when four dormice were found.

Our most recent survey, in November 2011, showed that 33 out of 183 nest boxes were occupied, with dormice nesting in each of them – a fantastic result.

Tamsin and the team will continue to survey the estate for dormice, hopefully finding them in even more locations, and will also monitor them in areas where they’ve already been found. With a bit of luck, we'll be able to increase the dormouse population across the estate.

The People’s Trust for Endangered Species

Stourhead is registered with the People’s Trust for Endangered Species as a dormouse-monitoring site. Results of our surveys are sent to them for the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme.

Dormouse at Hembury Wood, Dartmoor
Dormouse numbers have dwindled over the past half a century | © National Trust Images/Ross Hoddinott

How you can help us

  • Dogs are welcome on the estate, but take care around grazing livestock
  • Please clear up your dog’s mess on paths or in well-trodden areas
  • Please keep to permissive footpaths when crossing working farmland
  • Where safe, avoid walking on well-trodden areas, to minimise erosion
  • Leave gates as you find them, or follow instructions on signs
  • Please park in designated areas, and avoid parking on verges
  • Thank you and we hope that you enjoy exploring the wilder side of Stourhead

Follow the Countryside Code

Respect other people

  • Consider the local community and other people enjoying and working in the outdoors
  • Park carefully so that access to gateways and driveways is clear
  • Leave gates and property as you find them
  • Follow marked paths and local signs
  • Be nice – say hi

Protect the natural environment

  • Leave no trace of your visit; take all your litter home with you
  • Take care with barbecues and fires – only use in designated areas
  • Keep dogs under control
  • Bag and bin dog poo – any public bin will do

Enjoy the outdoors

  • Enjoy your visit; have fun and make memories
  • Be prepared – check local conditions and what facilities are open
Family exploring the garden at Stourhead, Wiltshire

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