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News from White Horse Hill from NT Ranger, Andy Foley – September 2017

on Fri, 22/09/2017 - 2:55pm

Greetings from White Horse Hill Uffington National Trust. I hope you all had a lovely summer and as we enter Autumn and the cold winds start to blow, I felt it was time to let you know what has been happening on the Hill.

If you can remember, Spring 2017 was a cold and dry affair and these factors, together with frequent monitoring of the Horse and continuous foot pressure, led to the decision that public access to it and its’s immediate surround had to be restricted. The biggest danger was people approaching the Horse from Dragon Hill Road and walking/climbing directly up to the tail and then amongst the figure either side. We could see that the grass was never really getting a breather and we feared if allowed to continue, the soil would be eroded to the bare chalk and the appearance of the Horse damaged/diminished possibly forever with it being extremely difficult to regrow grass on chalk considering other factors such as strong winds and steep terrain.

Further serious erosion was occurring to the neck of the Horse where people might step over the chalk but always land on the same footstep on the very inner edge. Likewise with the forehead and between the ears where the banks were just crumbling from foot pressure and dry conditions.

To avert this, we had signage made and erected in the car park to draw attention to the problem, clear messages on our website and social media pages and then also undertook a complete cordoning off of the figure from top to bottom, again with bold signage advising why and where the diversion was to be found, this being the public footpath known as Shepherd’s Steps that runs off at an angle below the Horse and then up to the Ridgeway. Use of this path has been encouraged and I’m glad to say it is showing signs of heavy use that would have otherwise been levied onto the figure and it’s surround.

Whilst I appreciate the strong sense of belonging with local people and a couple of legends that require ‘ being on ‘ the Horse itself, I also hope it can now be understood why such drastic measures had to be taken. As a result, I’m pleased to say the figure is recovering, if slowly, but has also allowed the appearance of a golden mane about the Horse’s back and tail where tall, browned off grasses stand that would have been trampled. Together with our annual Scouring/Chalking events the Horse now looks great and hopefully continues its recovery.

Events on the Hill this year have included the filming of an advert for the mobile operator EE who had a pitch in the Manger to film a caravan scene which took up about 2 seconds of a twenty second advert. It boggles the mind how this industry operates when they took three working days to get the ‘ shoot ‘ they wanted and with all the vehicles and people involved but it is always the same with filming productions. I’m glad I chose the profession I am in! Our Easter Egg Hunt proved a great success with both days completely sold out and we even had a bit of fun with our April’s Fool spoof about the discovery of a chalk duck figure on the Hill. I hope you saw this as did a further 3 million people worldwide proving that the Trust does have a lighter side.

Unfortunately, May brought a knock back where I was involved in an accident on a bicycle that led to the breaking of a collarbone and nearly 3 months recovery. As such, a few events like Kite flying and a guided walk had to be cancelled but I was still able to supervise a Scouring and later chalking of the Horse if only to get out of the house! I’m obviously now back at work and feel about 80% fit, time will help. My thanks to those who covered my basic duties in my absence.

Only last weekend I chaperoned a large group of visitors who were fans of the 80’s rock band X T C, originally from Swindon. The band used an image of the Horse for one of their album covers. I understood about 100 fans gathered for their convention over two nights in Swindon but only half made it to the Hill on Sunday morning due to a little over partying perhaps! Still, they were a great bunch with participants having travelled from Holland, Israel, Croatia and even Japan.

The team structure at Coleshill Estate Office, to which White Horse Hill and the other sites under my management belong, has had a recent restructuring and it now feels like we’ve got the right people in the right places to really get things moving along. One project ready to run will be the reversion of the arable field between Dragon Hill and the B400 to grassland. We hope this will improve the appearance of the Hill but more importantly, will nurture a further fragment of chalk grassland which is what White Horse Hill is and protect a habitat that is under threat in the UK.

On a personal note, I was fortunate enough recently to be upgraded to Area Ranger after nearly eight years here and I’m very pleased. Although we will be looking for an assistant to carry out some of my duties, it does not mean I will be flying a desk and will very much be out and about on the Hill.

Please also keep an eye out for ITV’s 100 Best Kept Village awards which was filmed in and around the village this year and also for ITV’s 100 best walks where you can vote for our part of the world.

I look forward to seeing you up on our very special Hill.

Kind regards

Andy Foley
White Horse Hill and Ashdown Park
Buscot and Coleshill Estate
Oxon. SN6 7PT
01793 762209