15/08/2022 - Permalink

Landscape changes as conservation project advances 

Related topics: Leisure, culture and heritage / Partner organisations

News from the partnership Offa’s Dyke Conservation Project

People living in and visiting the Knighton area will notice a change on the horizon later this year – and it’s part of a much bigger plan under the Offa’s Dyke Conservation Project (ODCP).  

The conifers above Knighton on Black Hall Farm are being carefully removed this autumn to safeguard this section of Offa’s Dyke, Britain’s longest ancient monument.  

Helen Upson, Offa’s Dyke projects officer with Shropshire Council,  explained:-

“Small clumps of conifer trees are a common sight in the local upland farms, originally planted for shelter as well as for timber. One very visible clump is on Black Hall Farm, and about half of these trees sit right on top of Offa’s Dyke. Unfortunately, as the trees grow, roots find their way into the earthwork and cause damage to buried archaeology.

“The shade cast by the growing trees – especially conifers – kills off the smaller plants like grasses and herbs. This leaves vulnerable bare soil in between the tree trunks. Burrowing animals enjoy the protection of the trees, and start digging homes in between the roots. Eventually winter storms and strong winds topple many trees, and in the process the roots tear out whole chunks from the earth.” 

“One way to prevent this damage is to remove the trees before the severe damage happens, and to cover the monument in something that can form a protective covering – like grass! Well managed pasture is one of the best ways to protect earthworks, and offers lots of other benefits. A mixture of grass and herb species allows insects to thrive, and attracts birds and bats to forage. Grazing livestock also benefit from a rich and varied diet, which helps the farmer to produce fit, healthy animals.” 

This autumn, these conifers next to the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail will be carefully removed in a way that doesn’t risk damaging the delicate ground underneath. At the right time of year, a mixture of grass and herb seeds will be added to give the bare earth a headstart. The National Trail will be temporarily closed for your safety during the tree removal – look out for the official notice with precise dates and durations, and a diversion route.  

Funding for this work has come from the Defra-funded Farming in Protected Landscapes Programme, in collaboration with the new Offa’s Dyke Conservation Project. Black Hall Farm has a whole-farm plan in place that also includes fencing off water courses and allowing natural regeneration of trees along the steep banks of the streams; better water supplies to enable improved grazing management; and fencing near Offa’s Dyke to allow fine-tuning of grazing the monument.  

While the Farming in Protected Landscapes programme is open to farmers and land managers in the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Offa’s Dyke Conservation Project is working on a number of sites on both sides of the Shropshire – Powys border. This geographical range is possible because of the partnership between Cadw, Historic England, the Offa’s Dyke Association, and Shropshire Council. Every stretch of Offa’s Dyke – and its owners and managers – has different needs, and the ODCP is delivering a series of bespoke demonstrator projects with the overall purpose of passing Offa’s Dyke on to the next generation, better understood and in better condition.  

Further information

Offa’s Dyke is Britain’s longest archaeological monument at 82 miles, and one of the most important relics of the Early Medieval period in Western Europe. Constructed in around 785 CE, it is a linear earthwork (though not continuous), usually comprising a bank, with a ditch to its west, that passes through the Marches between what is now England and Wales.   

The Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail follows Offa’s Dyke itself for around 40 of those 82 miles.  

A recent survey showed that only 8.7% of the ancient monument is in favourable condition. 

The Offa’s Dyke Conservation Project is joint funded by Cadw and Historic England with around £500’000 over the next 3 years. With support from the Offa’s Dyke Association and Shropshire Council, a series of 10 local demonstrator projects will be carried out along the Shropshire-Powys border, based on recommendations from the Offa’s Dyke Conservation Management Plan. These projects will bring benefits to local land managers and visitors to the Dyke, and demonstrate the potential of holistic landscape management.  

Farming in Protected Landscapes is a scheme that can fund projects within English National Parks and AONBs, that: 

  • support nature recovery 
  • mitigate the impacts of climate change 
  • provide opportunities for people to discover, enjoy and understand the landscape and its cultural heritage 
  • protect or improve the quality and character of the landscape or place 

All work carried out by the Offa’s Dyke Conservation Project will balance the needs of the scheduled ancient monument and the wildlife living within.  

Contact Helen Upson, Offa’s Dyke projects officer, for further information at helen.upson@shropshire.gov.uk