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Volunteer Monitoring of Various Sites on the South Dorset Ridgeway

Case study: Dorset Ridgeway, North Dorset (South West)

List entry numbers: Up to 100 monuments, including 1002699, 1002431 and 1002710

Bronkham Hill Barrows scheduled monument at risk, volunteers examining a Victorian excavation trench
Volunteers examining the Victorian excavation trench across a barrow on the South Dorset Ridgeway

Background and history

The South Dorset Ridgeway is an extremely archaeologically rich area of the country. It has a similar density of prehistoric ceremonial sites to that of the Avebury and Stonehenge World Heritage Site. There are over 100 scheduled monuments here, with some barrow cemetery sites comprising over 40 individual barrow mounds each.

The Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) has received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This is to form a Landscape Partnership Scheme on the Ridgeway. This includes funding for three years of works to improve the condition of 60 archaeological sites. 

We do not have a full and accurate picture of the risk levels of all sites in this area. Due to a lack of resources, many were originally assessed through aerial photographs. They have had no subsequent inspection on the ground. In order to inform the AONB works, more data is desperately needed.

The AONB maintains an important strand of outreach work. In July 2015, Historic England ran a well attended joint training session for their existing volunteers. We aimed to provide them with the confidence and skills to conduct monitoring visits. This will enable the AONB rangers to better target their work.

Is it at risk?

Many of the scheduled monuments are at risk, but many more are in an unknown condition. Most were added to the Register in 2009, when scheduled monuments were first included.

Risk factors within this area are varied. They include arable farming; vegetation growth; animal or visitor erosion; animal burrowing; and geological sinkholes.

What's the current situation?

Once trained, volunteers will begin to monitor sites on open access land and adjacent to public rights of way. Their findings will be reported to the county Historic Environment Record and to Historic England. This will improve our baseline data. This information will allow the AONB to target work where it can do the most good.

Through this project volunteers are more engaged with the archaeology of their local area. They can build up links with a network of other interested people. They will be able to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the archaeology of this area. Their work will have a direct impact on our ability to manage heritage at risk. They will work with the guidance of a community archaeologist from Bournemouth University.

We are incredibly thankful to the volunteers for giving up their time for this project. We are excited to be working in partnership with the AONB, the Ridgeway team, the County Council rangers, and the Heritage Lottery Fund. We look forward to seeing the results of the monitoring visits over coming months.

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