The history of the Queen Elizabeth Country Park site
The three hills within the Park are all formed of chalk which was deposited in the upper cretaceous period approximately one hundred million years ago. The distinctive valleys (combes) found on Butser were shaped much later during the last ice age. During this Pleistocene period, two million to ten thousand years ago, the area experienced periglacial conditions. This continued freeze and thaw process, combined with a higher water table than at present, eroded the chalk hills, creating the distinctive steep dry valleys we see today.
The soil in the Park can be categorised into three broad sequences.
- A partial capping of clay with flints lies on top of Butser and Holt Down. This acid clay was derived from alluvial seqences deposited millions of years ago.
- The second type of soil can be found on the steep slopes of the hill. Hence the soil is shallow, well drained, highly calcareous with a low nutrient content, and is known as a Rendzina.
- The third type of soil can be found in the valley bottom. Here the soil is deeper as it consists of both the exposed Gault Clay and Green Sands, along with the alluvium that has been eroded from the Valley Slopes.
Much of Butser Hill has Scheduled Ancient Monument status as designated by English Heritage. Features include trackways, barrows and lynchets. In 2002 a new 40 acre area of scheduled monument was designated in the forest on the site of a Roman farmstead.
The tradition of sheep farming which has so influenced the landscape of the South Downs continues to the present day on Butser Hill. The Park has 250 of its own Beulah Sheep, and also a small flock of Manx sheep.
In 1928 grazing ceased on Holt and War Down when the Forestry Commission purchased the land to plant trees for timber. The potential of the combination of downland and woodland was realised in 1966 when Hampshire County Council purchased Butser Hill, and in 1976 the new partnership was formed and the Country Park was formally opened by Her Majesty the Queen. As well as providing excellent recreational opportunities the beech and conifer plantations remain a commercial enterprise producing timber for the paper pulp and fencing markets.
Various archaeological surveys have been undertaken in the Park in recent years. These reports are available, on request, from the visitor centre.
Buriton Heritage Bank
A part of the Park, to the east of the A3, falls within the Parish of Buriton. This community has undertaken comprehensive research into all aspects of its past history and the results can be found on their website at www.buriton.org.uk. The Visitor Centre Shop also sells a range of historical publications covering all aspects of life in the parish.