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Salisbury Plains in Wiltshire, England - June 2011 | by SaffyH
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Salisbury Plains in Wiltshire, England - June 2011

I first visited Salisbury Plain in July 2007 and since then it has remained in my mind. I have always wanted to visit it again quite soon after but I had not passed that away. I decided to visit it when on my trip to Dorset as it was not too far. I was glad that it was dry and sunny and that is when the Salisbury Plains look their best. The big open and rolling landscapes are coloured golden as the wheat is ready to be harvested and coloured green because of other crops and meadows. The clouds look like they are floating slowly over the big open landscapes.

  

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salisbury_Plain

  

Salisbury Plain is a chalk plateau in central southern England covering 300 square miles (780 km2).[1] It is part of the Southern England Chalk Formation and largely lies within the county of Wiltshire, with a little in Hampshire. The plain is famous for its rich archaeology, including Stonehenge, one of England's best known landmarks. Largely as a result of the establishment of the Army Training Estate Salisbury Plain (ATE SP), the plain is sparsely populated and is the largest remaining area of calcareous grassland in north-west Europe. Additionally the plain has arable land, and a few small areas of beech trees and coniferous woodland.

  

Physical geography

The boundaries of Salisbury Plain have never been truly defined, and there is some difference of opinion as to its exact area.[2] The river valleys surrounding it, and other downs and plains beyond them loosely define its boundaries. To the north the scarp of the downs overlooks the Vale of Pewsey, and to the north west the Bristol Avon. The River Wylye runs along the south west, and the Bourne runs to the east.[3] The Avon runs through the eastern half of the plain and to the south the plain peters out as the river valleys close together before meeting at Salisbury. From here the Avon continues south to the English Channel at Christchurch. The Hampshire Downs and the Berkshire Downs are chalk downland to the east and north of Salisbury Plain, and the Dorset Downs and Cranborne Chase are to the south west. In the west and north west the geology is mainly of the clays and limestones of the Blackmore Vale, Avon Vale and Vale of Wardour.

Amesbury is considered the largest settlement on the plain, though there are a number of small villages, such as Tilshead, Chitterne and Shrewton in the middle of the plain, as well as various hamlets and army camps. The A303 road runs along the southern area of the plain, and the A360 cuts across the centre.

  

History

Salisbury Plain is famous for its history and archaeology. In the Neolithic period Stone Age man began to settle on the plain, most likely centred around the causewayed enclosure of Robin Hood's Ball. Large long barrows like White Barrow and other earthworks were built across the plain. By 2500 BC areas around Durrington Walls and Stonehenge had become a focus for building, and the southern part of the plain continued to be settled into the Bronze Age.

Around 600 BC Iron Age Hill forts came to be constructed around the boundaries of the plain, including Scratchbury Camp and Battlesbury Camp to the south west, Bratton Camp to the north west, Casterley Camp to the north, Yarnbury and Vespasian's Camp to the south, and Sidbury Hill to the east.

Roman roads are visible features, probably serving a settlement near Old Sarum. Villas are sparse, however, and Anglo-Saxon place names suggest that the plain was mostly a grain-producing imperial estate.

In the sixth century Anglo-Saxon incomers built planned settlements in the valleys surrounded by strip lynchets, with the downland left as sheep pasture. To the south is the city of Salisbury, whose 13th and 14th century cathedral is famous for having the tallest spire in the country, and the building was, for many centuries, the tallest building in Britain. The cathedral is evidence of the prosperity the wool and cloth trade brought to the area. In the mid-19th century the wool and cloth industry began to decline, leading to a decline in the population and change in land use from sheep farming to agriculture and military use. Wiltshire became one of the poorest counties in England during this period of decline.

There are a number of chalk carvings on the plain, of which the most famous is the Westbury White Horse. The Kennet and Avon Canal was constructed to the north of the plain, through the Vale of Pewsey.

In 1896, George Kemp and Guglielmo Marconi experimented with wireless telegraphy on Salisbury Plain, and achieved good results over a distance of 1.75 miles (2.8 km).

  

Army Training Estate Salisbury Plain (SPTA)

 

The exact area of Salisbury Plain is sometimes confused with the extent of the military training area that it is home to. In fact this only covers roughly half of the geological boundaries of the plain. The army first conducted exercises on the plain in 1898. From that time, the Ministry of Defence bought up large areas of land until World War II. The MoD now own 150 square miles (390 km2) of land, making it the largest military training area in the United Kingdom. Of this, around 39 square miles (100 km2) are permanently closed to the public, and access is greatly restricted in other areas. As military use of the plain increased, new camps and barracks were constructed, including those at Larkhill, Bulford, Tidworth and Warminster. Several installations have been built and since removed, including a railway line and aerodrome that were constructed next to Stonehenge. In 1943 the village of Imber and the hamlet of Par Hinton were evacuated to allow training for Operation Overlord to be conducted. The village has remained closed, except for the annual church service and some bank holidays, ever since.

The Royal School of Artillery is based at Larkhill, and live firing is conducted on the plain for approximately 340 days of each year. Military personnel from the UK and around the world spend some 600,000 man days on the plain every year.[4]

The ATE SP is located close to other military facilities including the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down (much of whose work is secret), Boscombe Down airfield and Middle Wallop Army Air Corps Base, where pilots train on the Westland Apache.

  

Ecology

Because of the large training areas inaccessible to the public, the plain is a wildlife haven, and home to two National Nature Reserves, but there is concern that the low level of grazing on the plain could allow scrub to encroach on the grassland. The plain supports the largest known expanse of unimproved chalk downland in north west Europe, and represents 41% of Britain's remaining area of this wildlife habitat. The Plain supports 13 species of nationally rare and scarce plants, 67 species of rare and scarce invertebrates and forms a site of international importance for birds. In addition to chalk downland, the Plain supports scrub and woodland habitats, temporary and permanent pools and the River winterbourne.

  

Vegetation

A diversity of soil types, slope, aspect and past and present land-use has given rise to various grassland communities. Historical evidence suggests that large areas of grassland are of great antiquity, and areas which were cultivated at the beginning of this century have experienced nearly 100 years of chalk grassland re-colonisation. Parts of East Salisbury Plain and the periphery of Central and West comprise areas of grassland currently managed for grazing pasture and hay-cutting, whilst the middle of Centre and West are ungrazed. A large proportion of Salisbury Plain supports upright brome Bromus erectus species rich grassland, within which a continuous floristic variation is seen. A widespread type on the Plain is characterised by an abundance of red fescue Festuca rubra, crested hair-grass Koeleria macrantha, salad burnet Sanguisorba minor, lady's bedstraw Galium verum, rough hawkbit Leontodon hispidus, common rock-rose Helianthemum nummularium and dropwort Filipendula vulgaris. The high constancy of this last species is a distinctive feature of the upright brome grasslands on Salisbury Plain and is otherwise only known from one other site in Hampshire. Where upright brome is less dominating, plants such as small scabiousa Scabiosa columbaria, clustered bellflower Campanula glomerata, dyer's greenweed Genista tinctoria, kidney vetch Anthyllis vulneraria, sainfoin Onobrychis viciifolia and horseshoe vetch Hippocrepis comosa are characteristic associates.

  

Vegetation

A diversity of soil types, slope, aspect and past and present land-use has given rise to various grassland communities. Historical evidence suggests that large areas of grassland are of great antiquity, and areas which were cultivated at the beginning of this century have experienced nearly 100 years of chalk grassland re-colonisation. Parts of East Salisbury Plain and the periphery of Central and West comprise areas of grassland currently managed for grazing pasture and hay-cutting, whilst the middle of Centre and West are ungrazed. A large proportion of Salisbury Plain supports upright brome Bromus erectus species rich grassland, within which a continuous floristic variation is seen. A widespread type on the Plain is characterised by an abundance of red fescue Festuca rubra, crested hair-grass Koeleria macrantha, salad burnet Sanguisorba minor, lady's bedstraw Galium verum, rough hawkbit Leontodon hispidus, common rock-rose Helianthemum nummularium and dropwort Filipendula vulgaris. The high constancy of this last species is a distinctive feature of the upright brome grasslands on Salisbury Plain and is otherwise only known from one other site in Hampshire. Where upright brome is less dominating, plants such as small scabiousa Scabiosa columbaria, clustered bellflower Campanula glomerata, dyer's greenweed Genista tinctoria, kidney vetch Anthyllis vulneraria, sainfoin Onobrychis viciifolia and horseshoe vetch Hippocrepis comosa are characteristic associates.

 

Insects

The botanically and structurally diverse grasslands support a large range of rare and uncommon chalk downland invertebrates. Where abundance has been assessed strong populations of national and local importance are present, and the large area of habitat available to them is important in ensuring their survival.[3]

The Plain is an important stronghold for declining downland butterflies. A high concentration of colonies of three nationally scarce species, the Adonis Blue Polyommatus bellargus, Duke of Burgundy Hamearis lucina, and the largest population of Marsh Fritillary Euphydryas aurinia on the chalk, occur. A colony of Brown Hairstreak Thecla betulae is present on East Salisbury Plain at one of its two Wiltshire localities. Strong populations of other downland species such as Chalkhill Blue Polyommatus coridon and Dark Green Fritillary Argynnis aglaja are found, and of note here is the occurrence of Grayling Hipparchia semele, a butterfly rarely found away from the coast.[3]

 

Moths

An outstanding assemblage of two rare (RDB), 36 nationally scarce and two regionally notable moths are present, most of which are either chalk grassland specialists or are partly dependent on chalk grassland. The RDB species Scarce Forester Adscita globulariae is present, and amongst many species of nationally scarce moths are the Cistus Forester Adscita geryon, Six-belted Clearwing Bembecia scopigera, Oblique Striped Phibalapteryx virgata, Pimpernel Pug Eupithecia pimpinellata, Shaded Pug Eupithecia subumbrata and Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk Moth Hemaris tityus. Larvae of these moths feed on the chalk grassland plants which are widespread on the Plain. Other nationally scarce moths such as Orange-tailed Clearwing Synanthedon anthraciniformis depend on the associated scrub habitats.[

 

Bees

The bee fauna is particularly rich in species which depend on chalk grassland. One of only two British populations of the endangered (RDB) mining bee Melitta dimidiata is present on the Plain, and two other RDB species which occur are Andrena hattorfiana and its nest parasite the Cuckoo Bee Nomada armata. This is a rare inland site for the nationally scarce Tawny Bumble Bee Bombus humilis.[

 

Flies

The Diptera (flies) include four RDB species which depend on chalk grassland, the picture-wing flies Chaetorellia loricata, Urophora solstitialis and Terellia vectensis and the hover fly Volucella inflata.

 

Crustaceans

Recent observations have shown that Salisbury Plain is an important site for the RDB crustacean, the Fairy Shrimp Chirocephalus diaphanus which is dependent on temporary pools, a rare and declining habitat. On the Plain this habitat requirement is met by numerous pools created by repeated tank movements along the earth tracks which cross the chalk grassland.

 

Others

Other nationally scarce invertebrates occur within the Orthoptera (grasshoppers and crickets), Heteroptera (bugs) and Coleoptera (beetles), the latter group including a RDB soldier beetle, Cantharis fusca.

  

Birds

The area as a whole is of national and international importance for breeding and wintering birds. It supports seven species listed on Annex 1 of the EC Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds, populations of six species of Red Data bird and several species of candidate Red Data bird. Amongst the breeding birds three species are particularly noteworthy. Up to 20 pairs of Stone Curlew representing 12% of the British population breed on the Plain. The area accounts for approximately 20% of breeding records for Quail in Britain each year, and numbers of breeding Hobby are thought to exceed 1% of the British population on a regular basis. Other important breeding species include Buzzard, Barn Owl, Long-eared Owl, Nightingale, Stonechat, Whinchat, Wheatear, Corn Bunting and, on occasion, Montagu's Harrier.[3]

The overall breeding assemblage is exceptionally diverse for a British dry grassland site. In winter the Plain is an important area for foraging flocks of thrushes, finches and buntings. These, together with abundant small mammals are prey for wintering Hen Harrier, Merlin and Short-eared Owl. Hen Harriers occur in nationally significant numbers each winter, and the Plain is an important winter roost for this species in southern England.[3] In 2003 the Great Bustard was reintroduced into Britain on Salisbury Plain.

 

Snakes and Amphibians

Other species of interest on Salisbury Plain include the Great Crested Newt Triturus cristatus. This newt occurs in dew ponds across the Plain and in pools along the River Winterbourne, together with smooth newt Triturus vulgaris, common frog Rana temporia and common toad Bufo bufo. Grass snake Natrix natrix are also often seen near pools, and common lizard Lacerta vivipara, slow worm Anguis fragilis and adder Vipera berus are present.

  

Cultural references

The plain has featured in the writings of William Wordsworth, Thomas Hardy, William Henry Hudson and A. G. Street, and in the paintings of John Constable. It is also used in The Beatles movie Help! as they sing "The Night Before" and "I Need You". It is also the setting of a scene in John Boorman's film Catch Us If You Can when the film's hero, pop star Dave Clark, encounters a group of sinister beatniks in a deserted village used as target practice by the British Army. It is also mentioned in Ayreon song "And the Druids Turn to Stone". In the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Iolanthe, the Lord Chancellor has a nightmare in which he is crossing the English Channel in a steamer, which changes to a 4-wheel vehicle, and finally he is "Crossing Salisbury Plain on a bicycle".

Billy Bragg makes mention of Salisbury Plain in the song "Island of No Return".

Salisbury Plain is also marked as the location of a Piece of Eden in the video game Assassins Creed.

In the episode One of Us of the British television series Yes, Prime Minister, a lost dog on Salisbury Plain becomes a crucial plot point.

  

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Taken on January 1, 2011