It was quite a sight. A red mechanical spider slowly crawled down the steep cobbles of Shaftesbury’s iconic Gold Hill. The equipment moved like the probes you will have seen on TV coverage of space missions.
But this ‘mobile elevated work platform’ or MEWP was brought into the town for the relatively low-tech task of removing the weeds from the retaining walls that abut Gold Hill. This special MEWP, able to tackle slopes, was hired from Bristol and it is thought to be the only one in the south west, and maybe all of England.
Graham Stanley, Senior Ranger with the county council’s Coast and Countryside service oversaw the project. The age of the historic wall required some special consideration and specialist kit. “We couldn’t put scaffolding against it because we didn’t want to damage the bricks and we couldn’t use any invasive anchoring of ropes,” Graham said.
Stuart Caldwell put on a hard hat and hoisted up his long-range hedge trimmer whilst standing on a platform from the MEWP’s extended arm. “There’s a great view,” he exclaimed as he took in the scenery from 20 feet above the 1-in-4 gradient. “I have a good head for heights,” he added. Just as well.
This work wasn’t funded from your Council rates. Shaftesbury and District Tourism Association took the initiative and paid for the Council team to undertake the trimming. “We had feedback from visitors that it was being referred to as ‘Green Hill’ and not Gold Hill,’ explained SDTA Chairman Anne Giberson.
Anne successfully applied for a Tesco ‘Bags For Life’ donation to pay for the task. “We felt that the grant would be best used to upkeep Gold Hill because nobody else is doing it at the moment,” Anne explained.
This work was last undertaken in 2011 but funding is an issue, especially as the ownership of the wall is unclear. “Nobody appears to own it,” Graham said. He conceded that more regular trimming would be beneficial. “There were concerns that the amount of Valariumin the wall was starting to break out the mortar between the ancient stones,” Graham shouted, above the din of the strimmer.
During a quick break from activity, Open Spaces Group member Sue Clifford came over to compliment Graham’s team for not removing the wild flowers in the wall. “One of our service aims is to conserve wildlife and increase wildflowers for insects. They are not doing the damage in the mortar. The ivy and sycamore have been targeted,” Graham said.
Not all of the Blandford Forum-based team that manage Dorset’s nature reserves, rights of way, verges and roundabouts are paid Council employees. Shaftesbury resident John Pierce turned out to help as he volunteers with the rangers regularly around North Dorset.
I’m a gopher. I rake up after the guys have done all the hard work,” John explained. “I just love being in the countryside,” he continued. “In the summertime we’re mending stiles and cutting back hedgerows to make the countryside more accessible.”
The Gold Hill clean-up is not complete yet. Over the next few days, more of the Tesco grant money will be used to varnish the wooden poles that supporting the railings along the hill.