North Wessex Downs
The North Wessex Downs is a nationally recognised Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - in other words one of the United Kingdom's finest landscapes. ‘Natural Beauty’ encompasses not only the appearance of the landscape, but includes landform and geology, plants and animals, landscape features and the rich history of human settlement over the centuries.
The beauty of the North Wessex Downs is a blend of its rich natural, historic and cultural heritage. The diverse landscape includes areas of rolling chalk grassland, ancient woodlands, arable farmland, chalk escarpments, downland hillsides and chalk river valleys.Did you know that…?
- The designated area covers 1730 square kilometres or 668 square miles of countryside and villages overlapping the boundaries of Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Our focus also includes the surrounding 'context' of the area.
- Some 125,000 people live within the North Wessex Downs, which straddles the boundaries of nine local authorities in four counties. More than a million people live within easy reach of the Downs.
- There's an extensive network of Rights of Way, with a combined length of over 900 miles (1450 kilometres).
- The North Wessex Downs are on important national and regional walking routes: the Ridgeway National Trail, Thames Path National Trail, the Test Way, the Wayfarer’s Walk, the Lambourn Valley Way and the tow-path of the Kennet and Avon Canal; together with National Cycling Network Route 4.
- Many leading race horse trainers are based within the North Wessex Downs, with around 3,700 racehorse, supporting the employment of over 800 people.
- There are eight landscape types, and seven chalk horses, including the world famous White Horse Hill. Our chalk streams are among England's finest - three quarter's of the world's chalk streams are in England.
- The North Wessex Downs includes seven Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), more than 66 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and 249 Local Wildlife Sites.
- Around one tenth of the UK’s important chalk grassland is found within the North Wessex Downs.
- Although there are more than 500 Scheduled Ancient Monuments, some 4000 Listed Buildings, fifteen Registered Parks and Gardens, a Registered Battlefield, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a hundred built Conservation Areas, some four fifths of the North Wessex Downs is farmland.
- More than a tenth of the North Wessex Downs is woodland and half of this has some form of wildlife designation, including a significant proportion of Ancient Semi Natural Woodland.
- People have lived here for some 10,000 years; their earliest monuments include Wayland's Smithy (c.3500 BC) and the Avebury Circle (c.3000 B).
- At Crofton, you can see the world's oldest working steam engines - still in action today!
- In sharp contrast, Harwell, at the very edge of the North Wessex Downs, hosts the UK's National Satellite Test Facility, at one of the world's leading science parks.