Getting to know the Ridgeway
During 2012, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we carried out and commissioned a range of projects to help us get to know this remarkable landscape better, here are just a few of the highlights.
What did we find out about?
Old buildings and archaeology
Historic agricultural building survey - the South Dorset Ridgeway is peppered with old farms and barns, the majority of these have not been properly recorded but are important in helping understand how people farmed and lived in the past. So we commissioned a pilot study to see how local people might get involved with studying them.
Black Down Archaeological Survey - Black Down is the key site for accessing the Ridgeway and a number of the Partnership's projects are focussed there. So understanding what is there is of primary importance prior to work taking place. This report is an excellent read for anyone interested in the history of this landscape as the author takes you through from the Bronze Age to the present day in a very readable and fascinating overview, highlighting the significant features on Black Down which includes a previously unrecorded recorded Bronze Age cross ridge dyke.
A review of community archaeology in South Dorset - when we asked local people what they were interested in a great many said archaeology, old buildings and landscape history. But the Ridgeway is so rich in archaeology it is difficult to know where one should start, the Partnership commissioned this report to help us understand which are the most pertinent questions relating to the archaeology of the Ridgeway. Realising that, as enthusiastic amateurs, we could make a valuable contribution to understanding how people lived in the past...
This report provides an excellent, very readable overview of the important wildlife to be found in the area and provides us with a good start point and reference for exploring the animals and plants of the Ridgeway. The report also gives an idea of how important habitat has changed over time and the degree to which people are currently exploring and recording the wildlife around the area.
One piece of work that has shaped the Partnership's approach to nature conservation is the 'Landscape Permeability Mapping Study'. This study helps us identify where important habitat areas have become so small and broken up that they can no longer support populations of the rare plants and animals associated with them. By targeting habitat restoration and creation on suitable areas 'in the gaps' we can re-connect these blocks of important habitat so that they can again provide a home to rare wildlife (a brief overview can be opened using the link below but much of this data is held as detailed map based information and requires specialist software to analyse and view).
Hedgerows and dry stone walls
The Partnership commissioned studies on the condition of both hedgerow and dry stone walls in the South Dorset Ridgeway area. These small features define fields and are part of the look of the landscape as well as being important historical features and supporting significant wildlife. Training in both hedgelaying and dry stone walling is included in the Partnership's proposed projects.
The area has a good amount of hedgerow which is well cared for, however the study showed a couple of areas that could be easily improved, hedges in the area contain less variety of hedgerow trees and shrubs than the national average, local hedgerow also tends to have a less bushy base. Both of these characteristics could be improved with some straightforward work that would be ideal for volunteer work parties.
One of the most interesting things about dry stone walls in the South Dorset Ridgeway area is that precisely match the underlying limestone, so must have been made from stone gathered very locally indeed, a good illustration of the link between everyday life, our built environment and landscape elements (in this case geology).
As well as improving footpaths and bridleways across the South Dorset Ridgeway we have proposed a major overhaul of an old car park on Black Down, creating new trails leading from it and connecting to the existing trail network. We have planned this route to follow the gentlest gradient possible and we will surface the whole route to a consistent and more user friendly standard.
What else did we find out about?
During 2012 the Partnership undertook and commissioned a lot more work than that listed above, some of this is not readily available in a web based format such as map based information on the condition of footpaths and bridleways or the file size of the report is simply too big, so these have not been published as download content. But here is a quick roundup of some of the other work we did...
- We went out and spoke to people, face to face and using surveys. In all well over 2500 people gave us their views on aspects of the South Dorset Ridgeway's heritage and this knowledge has played a vital role in helping us shape project proposals.
- We carried out detailed consultation with teachers in the area to ensure that we could develop a schools programme that will add real value to schools' learning programmes.
- We carried out detailed condition surveys of footpaths and bridleways, spoke to members of the British Horse Society, Ramblers and cyclists.
- The team at Dorset County Museum developed detailed plans for the new Archaeology Gallery.
- Dorset AONB carried out detailed Landscape Condition Assessment, a superb document for anyone interested in the local landscape (we will try and get it down to a web friendly file size)
- We mapped all of the finger posts, milestones and other locally distinct features in the area and recorded their condition in the hope that we will be able to restore them to good condition for years to come.
- We also carried out a lot of behind the scenes work on how projects could link together to achieve more, on web sites, detailed project and budget planning, understanding how we could develop best practice in providing volunteer opportunities and run the Scheme for the next five years!