Linking the Ridgeway Project. Corn bunting and cornflowers are two of the species targeted for conservation by the new Linking the Ridgeway project in Dorset.

The project forms part of the wider South Dorset Ridgeway Landscape Partnership, part funded by the National Lottery the project focuses on a network of high ground south of Dorchester, running from Eggardon Hill, Askerswell down to Osmington’s White Horse.

It is easy to see why the Ridgeway is a focus of interest as it is a striking landscape with rolling downland, which is a mixture of grassland and arable and has fantastic views over Lyme Bay towards Dartmoor and Portland.  There are numerous barrows dotted about, as well as the considerable earthworks of Maiden Castle. Almost in the middle of the Ridgeway, the Hardy Monument stands on Black Down in commemoration of Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy.

It is not, however, the area’s historic interest that the Linking the Ridgeway project is primarily interested in but its wildlife and supporting habitats. The soils are mainly chalk and limestone based and so the areas of unimproved grassland that remain, found mainly on slopes too steep to be ploughed, support a fantastic diversity of grasses, flowers and invertebrates.

On arable land these alkaline soils can also accommodate a wide range of rare annual flowers. The vividly coloured cornflower has been recorded relatively recently, but shepherd’s needle has not been recorded since 1938. The project will promote practical measures to conserve arable annuals as well as increasing the recording effort, with the aim of rediscovering species thought to be extinct in the area.

The same principles apply to farmland birds. For example, the project will be providing practical advice to establish seed crops for Corn Bunting, whilst also undertaking surveys to investigate whether the bird is under recorded and not as scarce as it is thought to be.

FWAG SouthWest advisor Alex Butler will be working with farmers with the aim of improving the lot of farmland birds, arable annuals and the wider environment. For more information please email [email protected]


With thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund