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Archaeological digs to help uncover Ham Hill’s past, for its future

| District

A project that will seek to protect and safeguard the Hillfort at Ham Hill Country Park is set to commence in 2022.

The aim of the initiative is to create a better visitor experience with new and exciting features planned for the site.

Since 2019, South Somerset District Council’s Countryside team, which manages Ham Hill, has been working with the National Lottery Heritage Fund to develop a project that will protect and promote the history and wildlife importance for the future.

The project, entitled ‘Uncovering Ham Hill’s past for its future’, will seek ways to manage the increasing number of visitors to the country park, which have significantly increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. It will also lessen the impact on the environment and archaeological features, as well as provide better facilities and more engagement - all of which will create a better visitor experience.

The £1.6 million project will encompass a range of actions to increase biodiversity, protect and repair archaeological features and engage with visitors through activities and events -telling the stories of Ham Hill and ensuring a sustainable future for this magnificent Iron Age hillfort. 

Planned as part of the project is a new visitor centre with exhibitions, a café, toilets and educational space, constructed in a more centralised location on top of the hillfort.

The current plans are to create a new visitor centre near to Lime Kiln car park. However, due to the hugely significant ecology and archaeology of Ham Hill, extensive surveys have to be carried out before any plans are submitted. This ensures that all of the important features are protected from any small-scale sustainable build and that the wildlife and archaeology is not adversely impacted by any works taking place.

Councillor Sarah Dyke, portfolio holder for Environment at South Somerset District Council, said: “In the past 18 months, we have seen a huge increase in the number of people visiting Ham Hill, it has been heart-warming to see so many people outside enjoying this wonderful space; a place for families to meet after spending so long apart. The tricky part for the ranger team is managing the impact of those extra visits and so we work hard to protect and conserve nature above ground and history below it.

“We don’t often get to see the history below ground, so we are really excited that we have been given the opportunity to look back at 5,000 years of Ham Hill’s history.  We are excited that all this work may lead to so many fantastic benefits for Ham Hill and its local communities.”

Ham Hill is an Iron Age hillfort with a wealth of history and archaeology from the Iron Age, through to Roman occupation and, more recently, Victorian and modern day quarrying.  As a Scheduled Monument, the site was put on Historic England’s ‘At Risk’ register in 2019 due to the impact that vegetation, visitors and animals are having on the historic rampart features and other areas of archaeological significance.

Ecological surveys in the area have been underway since spring 2021 and Cambridge Archaeological Unit will be undertaking test trenches, with permission from Historic England, from the 8 November 2021 in two possible locations near to Lime Kiln car park. The trenches will seek to identify if there are any important archaeological features under the surface, thus helping to guide any thinking around potential building locations. The combined results of all surveys will help to guide the planning and development of the project to ensure the best outcome.

The visitor centre will be a sustainable modular build, designed to blend into the natural environment, whilst providing visitors with an important central base from which to find out more and explore Ham Hill. The existing rangers centre is not suitable to be renovated to provide this facility and it will continue to act as a working base for the rangers and volunteer teams.

Countryside Ranger Paul McNeill said: “Right now we have a wonderful opportunity to make sure we protect and conserve all that is special about Ham Hill. Our team are working to develop an appropriate project that supports the needs of residents and visitors to the country park, whilst making sure we can all enjoy the astonishing wildlife and heritage stories that this site has to share.

“When the results of the surveys are published, we will provide opportunities for you to give your views; from speed limits on the highway to interpretive ideas, we will bring our thoughts to share in a range of online and, hopefully, face to face sessions, so local residents can have their say in how we progress this opportunity. Do watch our social media feeds, local press and on-site posters about ways to get involved.”

If you are interested in the archaeological test trenches, please pop up from Wednesday 10 November to Friday 12 November between 10am-11am or 3pm-4pm to talk to our archaeologists. Please note that for safety reasons Lime Kiln car park will be closed during these works.

If you would like to find out more about the project or to get involved, please contact countryside@southsomerset.gov.uk

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