Location of Dolebury Warren in Somerset  

Dolebury Warren , also known as Dolebury Camp ,  is a 90.6 hectares  or 224 acres  biological Site of Special Scientific Interest  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 several species of butterfly.

Dolebury Warren overlooks the villages of Churchill and Rowberrow and provides good visibility across the surrounding lower lying areas as far as the Bristol Channel. 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. It is the starting point for the Limestone Link, a 36 miles (58 km) long-distance footpath which ends at Cold Ashton in Gloucestershire.

The fort covers an area of 9.1 hectares (22 acres) and commands views over the surrounding countryside.

The hill fort is bivallate on three sides and a single rampart on the southern side which is protected by a steep slope.

 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.[9] 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 acres) protecting the easier Eastern approach.[10]

The name Dolebury means the idol hill from the Old English dwol and beorg.

Hill forts developed in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age, roughly the start of the first millennium BC.[12] 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.[13] 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".

The southern ramparts

Various artefacts have been uncovered representing the long period of occupation of the site at Dolebury Warren. These include flintwork from the Palaeolithic, bronze spearheads, Bronze Age pottery, and Roman pottery and coins.[9][15] There is evidence of occupation of the site during the Iron Age. The defences and Celtic field systems there date back to the 7th century−3rd century BCE, though they might mask earlier developments.[17][18] The hillfort was occupied until approximately 100BC, though it is possible that it was reoccupied in the Roman and post-Roman periods.[18] The archeological consultant Peter Leach has suggested there may even have been a Roman Temple built within the hillfort, while aerial photographs suggest the probable remains of an Iron Age or Roman coaxial field system.[20][21] Local historian Robin Atthill also suggests that Dolebury may have re-emerged as an important centre of population in the 5th century.[22]

Looking west towards the highest point


In the medieval or post-medieval period, the remains of the hillfort were used as a rabbit warren which was used to breed rabbits, providing valuable meat and fur. 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.[23] The warren at Dolebury is completely enclosed by the substantial ramparts of the Iron Age hill fort and thus provided an ideal location to breed rabbits. The presence of pillow mounds and vermin traps demonstrate man's management of the site for husbandry.[24] Ridge and furrow agriculture has also been identified, from aerial photographs, within the fort.[25] 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.[26][27] The site was described by John Leland in the 16th century.[28] A three-storey building, believed to be the warrener's house and possibly a watch tower, surrounded by a garden, was in ruins by 1830.[29][30]

19th and 20th centuries[edit]

The site was visited in the early 19th century by John Skinner and surveyed in 1872 by Charles William Dymond.[15] In 1906 the Mendip Lodge Estate, which included Dolebury Warren, was sold.[31] It was first scheduled as an ancient monument in 1929.[9][32] In 1935 Dolebury Camp was bought by Miss V. Wills of the W.D. & H.O. Wills tobacco company to prevent development.[33] Dolebury Warren was notified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1952.[34] The freehold of 92.657 hectares (228.96 acres) was acquired by the National Trust in 1983 from A. G. Gosling, D. F. Gosling and J. M. Kent, and is managed by the Avon Wildlife Trust.[35][36]


Dolebury Warren

 Site of Special Scientific Interest  


Area of Search Avon

Interest Biological

Area 90.6 hectares (0.906 km2; 0.350 sq mi)

Notification 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.[37] The differing soil types provide suitable habitats for both acid- and lime-loving plants.[4] 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).[34]

Scarce plants found at the warren include knotted pearlwort (Sagina nodosa),[38] and slender bedstraw (Galium pumilum).[39] 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).[37][40]

See also[edit]

List of hill forts and ancient settlements in Somerset

cynuit and landscape priddy cheddar wookey axbridge banwell Worlebury Camp weston brentknoll bridgewater the levels archer athelney abbeys wells sheptonmallet ilcestre cadbury bury bristoll brislington keynsham bath wellow stantondrew watchet bats castle dunster dunkerry
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