Dolebury Warren

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Dolebury Camp
Native name Dolebury Warren
Location Churchill, Somerset
Coordinates 51°19′39″N 2°47′01″W / 51.32750°N 2.78361°W / 51.32750; -2.78361Coordinates: 51°19′39″N 2°47′01″W / 51.32750°N 2.78361°W / 51.32750; -2.78361
Governing body Avon Wildlife Trust
Owner National Trust
Official name: Dolebury Camp
Designated 19 December 1929[1]
Reference No. 1008184
Dolebury Warren is located in Somerset
Dolebury Warren
Location of Dolebury Camp in Somerset

Dolebury Warren is a 90.6 hectares (224 acres) biological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and ancient monument near the villages of Churchill and Rowberrow in North Somerset, part of South West England. It is owned by the National Trust, who acquired the freehold in 1983, and managed by the Avon Wildlife Trust.

Standing on a limestone ridge on the northern edge of the Mendip Hills, it was made into a hill fort during the Iron Age and was occupied into the Roman period. The extensive fort covers 9.1 hectares (22 acres) with single or double defensive ramparts around it. The name Dolebury Warren comes from its use during the medieval or post medieval periods as a rabbit warren. The topography and differing soil types provide a habitat for an unusually wide range of plants, attracting a variety of insects including butterflies.


The site is at the top of a Carboniferous Limestone ridge on the northern edge of the Mendip Hills. It forms part of the Black Down Pericline where the limestone has been exposed because of erosion of the overlying Triassic Dolomitic Conglomerate.[2] The highest point, at the eastern end of the site is 183 metres (600 ft) OD, with the hillfort being up to 50 metres (160 ft) below this.[3]


Iron Age Hill fort[edit]

Earthworks at Dolebury Camp

There is evidence of occupation of the site during the Iron Age.[4] The camp is bivallate on three sides and a single rampart on the southern side which is protected by a steep slope.[5] It is almost rectangular with the longest axis from east to west being 487 metres (1,598 ft) long and 200 metres (660 ft) from north to south, surrounded by a rampart which is around 4 metres (13 ft) high and 12 metres (39 ft) wide.[6]

Hill forts developed in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age, roughly the start of the first millennium BC.[7] The reason for their emergence in Britain, and their purpose, has been a subject of debate. It has been argued that they could have been military sites constructed in response to invasion from continental Europe, sites built by invaders, or a military reaction to social tensions caused by an increasing population and consequent pressure on agriculture. The dominant view since the 1960s has been that the increasing use of iron led to social changes in Britain. Deposits of iron ore were located in different places to the tin and copper ore necessary to make bronze, and as a result trading patterns shifted and the old elites lost their economic and social status. Power passed into the hands of a new group of people.[8] Archaeologist Barry Cunliffe believes that population increase still played a role and has stated "[the forts] provided defensive possibilities for the community at those times when the stress [of an increasing population] burst out into open warfare. But I wouldn't see them as having been built because there was a state of war. They would be functional as defensive strongholds when there were tensions and undoubtedly some of them were attacked and destroyed, but this was not the only, or even the most significant, factor in their construction".[9]

The southern ramparts

The defences and Celtic field systems at Dolebury date back to the 4th century-3rd century BCE, though they might mask earlier developments.[10] The rectangular fort covers an area of 9.1 hectares (22 acres) and commands views over the surrounding countryside.[11] It was protected by a limestone rampart with a ditch and counterscarp on all sides but the South. There is an inturned entrance on the West and an annexe of 0.4 hectares (0.99 acre) protecting the easier Eastern approach. Finds include Iron-age and Romano-British materials.[12]

Various artefacts have been uncovered representing the long period of occupation of the site. These include flintwork from the Palaeolithic and bronze spearheads and Bronze Age pottery and even Roman pottery and coins.[6][13] The archeological consultant Peter Leach has suggested there may even have been a Roman Temple built within the hillfort.[14] Atthill suggests that Dolebury may have re-emerged as an important centre of population in the 5th century.[15] Aerial photographs suggest the probable remains of an Iron Age or Roman coaxial field system.[16]


Looking west towards the highest point

Dolebury Warren is a very good example of a medieval/post medieval rabbit warren which was used to breed rabbits, providing valuable meat and fur. The warren is completely enclosed by the substantial ramparts of the Iron Age hillfort, Dolebury Camp. Many warrens were surrounded by banks or walls to prevent the rabbits from escaping; escaped rabbits caused damage to nearby farmland and meant a loss in profit.[17] Reusing the hillforts defences as a boundary provided an ideal location in which to breed rabbits. The presence of pillow mounds and vermin traps demonstrate man's management of the site for husbandry.[18] Ridge and furrow agriculture has also been identified, from aerial photographs, within the fort.[19] Some of these structures, along with earlier Iron Age features, have been damaged by subsequent quarrying which may have been for lead, ochre or calamine.[20][21] The site was described by John Leland in the 16th century.[22]

19th and 20th centuries[edit]

A three story building, believed to be the warreners house surrounded by a garden, was in ruins by 1830.[23] This may also have functioned as a watch tower.[24]

The site was visited in the early 19th century by John Skinner and surveyed in 1872 by Charles William Dymond.[13] In 1906 the Mendip Lodge Estate, which included Dolebury Warren, was sold.[25] It was first scheduled as an ancient monument in 1929.[26][6] In 1935 Dolebury Camp was bought by Miss V. Wills of the W.D. & H.O. Wills tobacco company to prevent development.[27]

Dolebury Warren was notified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1952.[28] The freehold of 92.657 hectares (228.96 acres) was acquired by the National Trust in 1983[29] and is managed by the Avon Wildlife Trust.[30] It is the starting point for the Limestone Link, a 36 miles (58 km) long-distance footpath which ends at Cold Ashton in Gloucestershire.[31]


Dolebury Warren
Site of Special Scientific Interest
Dolebury Warren 02.JPG
Area of Search Avon
Interest Biological
Area 90.6 hectares (0.906 km2; 0.350 sq mi)
Notification 1952 (1952)
Natural England website

The site of the fort and warren is now grassy slopes which attract a wide range of wild flowers and butterflies.[32] The differing soil types provide suitable habitats for both acid- and lime-loving plants.[33] Kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) and woolly thistle (Cirsium eriophorum) thrive on the dry stony soils. Heath bedstraw (Galium saxatile) and wood sage (Teucrium scorodonia) are found in more acidic areas. The higher areas support bell heather (Erica cinerea), western gorse (Ulex gallii) and common heather (Calluna vulgaris). Trees and shrubs include the wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana), guelder rose (Viburnum opulus), whitebeam (Sorbus aria), privet (Ligustrum vulgare) and dogwood (Cornus sanguinea).[28]

Scarce plants found at the warren include knotted pearlwort (Sagina nodosa),[34] and slender bedstraw (Galium pumilum).[35] Butterflies recorded here include the small blue (Cupido minimus), marbled white (Melanargia galathea), dingy skipper (Erynnis tages), grizzled skipper (Pyrgus malvae), small pearl-bordered fritillary (Boloria selene), and wall brown (Lasiommata megera).[32][36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Dolebury Camp: a large univallate hillfort and associated and later earthworks on Dolebury Warren". National Heritage List for England. English Heritage. Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  2. ^ "Banwell to Churchill". British Geological Survey. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  3. ^ Bowden 2009, pp. 1-3.
  4. ^ "Mendip Hills An Archaeological Survey of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" (PDF). Somerset County Council Archeological Projects. Retrieved 16 January 2011. 
  5. ^ "Dolebury Camp Hillfort, Somerset". Digital Digging. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c "Dolebury Camp: a large univallate hillfort and associated and later earthworks on Dolebury Warren". National Heritage List for England. English Heritage. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  7. ^ Payne, Corney & Cunliffe 2007, p. 1.
  8. ^ Sharples 1981, pp. 71-72.
  9. ^ Time Team: Swords, skulls and strongholds, Channel 4, 19 May 2008, retrieved 16 September 2009 
  10. ^ "Tower Head and Dolebury Warren". Isle of Avalon. Retrieved 28 October 2006. 
  11. ^ Dyer 2001, p. 156.
  12. ^ "Dolebury". Roman Britain. Retrieved 14 November 2010. 
  13. ^ a b Bowden 2009, p. 3.
  14. ^ Leach 2001, p. 100.
  15. ^ Atthill 1976, p. 73.
  16. ^ "Monument No. 1494935". Pastscape. English Heritage. Retrieved 24 August 2014. 
  17. ^ Williamson 2006.
  18. ^ Atthill 1976, p. 92.
  19. ^ "Monument No. 1494886". Pastscape. English Heritage. Retrieved 24 August 2014. 
  20. ^ Bowden 2009, p. 17.
  21. ^ "Monument No. 1494887". Pastscape. English Heritage. Retrieved 24 August 2014. 
  22. ^ Bowden 2009, p. 4.
  23. ^ Bowden 2009, pp. 7-11.
  24. ^ "Monument No. 1494857". Pastscape. English Heritage. Retrieved 24 August 2014. 
  25. ^ "Sale of Mendip Lodge". Western Times. 14 September 1906. Retrieved 23 August 2014 – via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)). 
  26. ^ "Dolebury Camp". Pastscape. English Heritage. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 
  27. ^ "Dolbury Camp Saved". Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette. 24 August 1935. Retrieved 23 August 2014 – via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)). 
  28. ^ a b "SSSI citation sheet for Dolebury Warren" (PDF). English Nature. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  29. ^ "Acquisitions Up to December 2011". National Trust. Retrieved 24 August 2014. 
  30. ^ "Mendip Hills. Things to see and do". National Trust. Retrieved 24 August 2014. 
  31. ^ "Limestone Link (Cotswolds to Mendips)". Long Distance Walkers Association. Retrieved 24 August 2014. 
  32. ^ a b "Dolebury Warren". Avon Wildlife Trust. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  33. ^ Atthill 1976, p. 42.
  34. ^ Myles 2000, p. 81.
  35. ^ Myles 2000, p. 191.
  36. ^ "Sites for National Grid Square: ST". UK Butterflies. Retrieved 24 August 2014.