Beacon Hill Iron Age Hill Fort

An impressive hillfort near Burghclere with extensive views over the North Wessex Downs

beacon hill

About the site

One of the best known hill forts in England and the site of one of the beacons that formed a network across Hampshire. The firing of beacons on prominent hilltops was an integral part of the early defence and communication system for Britain. The last chain of beacons was lit on 5 June 2012 to commemorate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

Address

Near Burghclere



The hill fort on the top of the hill has never been excavated, but other survey techniques have revealed many huts and storage pits from the Iron Age residents of the hill. The ditch and banks are still prominent and well preserved, with curving banks defending the entrance at the southern end of the site.

Within the enclosure is the grave of the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, who played a prominent part in archaeological expeditions to Egypt, including his final trip to the Valley of the Kings.  It was here where he and Howard Carter discovered and opened the fabulous tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.

Ecology

The site is a chalk grassland habitat. Chalk grassland would have covered the large areas of  downland in southern England, making good grazing for sheep. The mark of centuries of sheep grazing are the slopes with a stepped appearance. This is formed by a mixture of soil creep and the lateral movement of sheep over the centuries. Such erosion is clearly visible on the slopes of Beacon Hill.

Grazing is an important part of managing chalk grassland. The constant feeding of the animals stops scrub from taking over the grassland. The number of animals allowed to graze an area is an important consideration. Too many animals will cause the floral community to suffer, too few animals will allow the scrub to encroach.

Now only remnants of these ancient unimproved grasslands remain. Many more have been lost to intense grazing or arable crops.

Chalk grassland is rich in wild flowers such as Rock Rose, Wild Thyme, Kidney Vetch and Clustered Bellflower. These flowers in turn support a variety of invertebrates. One such invertebrate is Osmia bicolor, a scarce solitary bee that resembles a small red tailed bumble bee. It feeds on Bird’s-foot-trefoil and nests in disused snail shells. Many birds are also found on chalk grassland.

Contact us

North Area Office, Basing House, Redbridge Lane, Old Basing, RG24 7HB

Phone 01252 870425

Email northern.sites@hants.gov.uk