Stonehenge

Stonehenge is a well-known Neolithic and Bronze Age stone monument located in a UNESCO World Heritage Site on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England. The whole WHS is quite large and contains many other structures from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.

Stonehenge is in a World Heritage Site of over 2000 hectares that is considered one of the most archaeologically rich in Europe. It is home to some of the most important Neolithic and Bronze Age finds and structures in the UK, and contains some 200 scheduled monuments. It is also the site of one of the biggest Chalk grassland reversion projects in the world.

Stonehenge is owned by the nation and is administered by English Heritage. Much of the World Heritage Site land is owned by local farms, but a third is owned and managed by the National Trust who are spearheading the grass regeneration scheme.

There is some debate regarding the Stonehenge setting, and new visitor facilities have been planned for some time. As yet no work has been done, but it is hoped that new facilities will be in place in time for the 2012 Olympics.

History

Evidence indicates that the area around Stonehenge has been occupied since around 8000 BC, but it was during the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods that the vast majority of the monuments around it came to be built. Early work at Stonehenge itself began in 3000BC when an outer ditch and embankment was constructed, and standing timbers erected. From about 2500BC, Neolithic and Bronze age man started to bring Bluestones and Sarsen stones from Wales and the Marlborough Downs. It was not until 1600BC that Stonehenge came to be completed. Most of the other monuments in the area such as Durrington Walls and Woodhenge date from the same period. A nearby hill fort was built during the Iron Age, and there is evidence to suggest that the area was extensively settled by the Romans. The nearby town of Amesbury was later settled during the Saxon reign in 979AD.

Stonehenge and the land immediately around it was given to the nation in 1918. Being on the edge of the military training area Salisbury Plain, a large number of military facilities have also been constructed in the area, including military barracks, a light railway and an aerodrome built within a stone's throw of Stonehenge (most of which has now fortunately been removed). Since then the National Trust has acquired some 850 hectares around Stonehenge, and the area was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1986.

Landscape

The Stonehenge landscape is one of the best preserved areas of readily accessible chalk downland in the UK. On the edge of Salisbury plain it features several rolling hills and dry river valleys that allow for pleasant walks without too much trouble. Surrounding farmland is ideal for crops and animal grazing.

Flora and fauna

Chalk grassland is a very rich environment allowing for a diverse range of animals and plants. Thin free draining soil restricts competitive species, but allows lime loving plants and trees to flourish. Knapweeds, Birdsfoot Trefoil and Yellow rattle are amongst several downland floral plants well established in the area. The thin soil also traps heat quickly and is ideal for a wide range of insects, such as the rare Chalkhill and Adonis Blue butterflies. The skylark (an RSPB red list species) is also common in the area, and lent its name to the nearby military garrison Larkhill. The RSPB own a reserve just south of the stones that has provided an ideal habitat for the Stone Curlew.