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Salisbury Plain Site Visit

21 July 2016

Salisbury Plain Site VisitA small group of CIEEM members was recently lucky enough visit the Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA), hosted by the ecologists at Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) (Oliver Howells, Julie Swain and Lisa Wade) and members of SPTA HQ Training Safety Officers. Over 19,600 ha of the site is part of Salisbury Plain SSSI, designated for chalk grassland and a range of other interest features (25 in total).

Following detailed survey in 2014 and 2015 almost 8000 ha of Salisbury Plain SSSI is now classed as being in Favourable condition, with over 11,500 ha in Unfavourable Recovering condition. This is a result of ongoing positive management carried out by DIO through conservation grazing, scrub control and targeted management for juniper, stone curlew and other features. 

The group heard how DIO manage grazing across this vast chalk landscape (including the Central Impact Area) using a system of 8 ha temporary pennings rotated around the site as part of Farm Plans agreed with local farmers.

We also visited Sidbury Hill, which is a large area of chalk grassland successfully restored from coniferous woodland where we saw some good quality grassland and spotted a dark green fritillary butterfly.

The MoD is currently planning and delivering a major infrastructure programme in and around SPTA in order to accommodate almost 5000 soldiers and their families relocating from Germany.  This is an ambitious programme to deliver in this highly protected landscape, and DIO explained some of the challenges they have overcome in order to gain planning permission for the necessary projects. This included using Biodiversity Offsetting to address impacts on chalk grassland outside the designated site. This will result in improvements to many County Wildlife Sites.

We also got a rare opportunity to see (or hear) some very impressive live firing from a range of British Army weaponry, including General Purpose Machine Guns, 105mm Light Field Gun and  Army’s biggest piece of field artillery the AS90. The military staff explained that SPTA is the largest training area in the UK and the only one that can support Brigade level training and hence why it is so important and busy.   

All in all it was a fascinating day and a unique chance to see and hear how the MoD balances national defence needs and statutory duties towards biodiversity so effectively, and we are very grateful to the ecologists at DIO for taking the time to host the event.


South West England Section News