North Wessex Downs
The North Wessex Downs is a nationally designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) - 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 historic and cultural heritage of human settlement over the centuries. The diverse landscape includes areas of rolling chalk grassland, ancient woodlands, arable farmland, steep escarpments, downland hillsides and chalk river valleys.
Did you know?
- The designated area covers 1730 square kilometres or 668 square miles of English countryside and settlements overlapping the boundaries of Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. The Trust's focus also includes the surrounding 'setting' of the area.
- Some 125,000 people live within the North Wessex Downs, which spans 173 parishes and straddles the boundaries of nine local authorities in four counties. More than a million people live within easy reach of the area.
- The area contains an extensive network of Rights of Way with a combined length of over 900 miles (1450 kilometres).
- The North Wessex Downs are crossed by important national and regional walking and cycling routes: Ridgeway National Trail; Thames Path National Trail; Test Way; Wayfarer’s Walk; 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 racehorses, supporting the employment of over 800 people.
- The area contains seven white horse hill-figures, including the world famous Uffington White Horse.
- The chalk streams in the North Wessex Downs are among England's finest - three quarter's of the world's chalk streams are in England.
- The North Wessex Downs includes seven European Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), more than 66 national 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.
- The North Wessex Downs includes over 500 Scheduled Ancient Monuments, 4000 Listed Buildings, fifteen Registered Parks and Gardens, a Registered Battlefield, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and over a hundred built Conservation Areas.
- Over 80% of the North Wessex Downs is classed as farmland, with around 6% of the area's workforce employed in agriculture.
- More than a tenth of the North Wessex Downs is woodland and half of this has some form of wildlife designation, a significant proportion of which is Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland.
- People have lived here for over 10,000 years; their earliest monuments including Wayland's Smithy Neolithic tomb (c. 5500 bp) and Avebury Stone Circle (c. 4600 bp).
- 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.