The National Lottery has this week awarded just under £62,000 to Dorset Wildlife Trust to highlight the heritage, landscape and wildlife of land between Shaftesbury and Gillingham.
Walking routes will be enhanced, and volunteers will be offered rural skills and practical conservation work as part of the three-year community project recognising the former Gillingham Royal Forest. Alfred spoke with Nicky Hoar who begins her project officer role next Monday.
The former Gillingham Royal Forest would have stretched to the bottom of Shaftesbury’s Castle Hill slopes, taking in Enmore Green, the north side of the A350 Grosvenor Road, Kingsettle Woods and Motcombe Parish. Duncliffe Wood would have marked the forest’s south-western boundary before it continued towards Gillingham and up to Milton-on-Stour at its north-western edge.
In 1204 King John stayed in a hunting lodge set within a royal deer park surrounded by this forest. “The area was deforested back in the 17th century on the orders of the King and it was broken up into enclosures where different people would have a smaller area of land to work,” explained Nicky.
The project doesn’t intend to restore the forest but the team hopes to undertake habitat restoration for the wildlife thriving there. “It is a hot spot for water voles and great crested newts. There’s a lot of grassland and meadows. We have much that we want to do, and we want volunteers to come and help us with it. Most of the land is private and many landowners are keen to work with us,” said Nicky.
There will be an emphasis on restoring and perhaps laying new hedgerows. “When you have lost a major forest, the hedgerows become even more important for wildlife as they make very good corridors for mammals, insects and birds to move along and flourish.”
Nicky says that if you stand at a vantage point like Castle Hill and take a photograph of the landscape below you will see the hedges from the former forest still in the landscape. “It’s really lovely to see now,” she said.
Dorset Wildlife Trust’s partners on this scheme include Motcombe Parish Council, the White Hart Link and Dorset Council. “We will be at the centre of it, bringing people together and making things happen,” said Nicky. “We want the people who live there now and people who live in the area in the future to access this area, visit and understand the countryside. If they enjoy it, they will care about it.”
There’s an extended interview on the audio file. Click to listen.