Twyford Down

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Incident Report Description

For centuries, Twyford Down has been regarded as one of the most mystical places in the South.

It was recognised as a gathering place for ancient tribes, and has long been acknowledged as a site of extensive ecological and historical importance.

Twyford Down is criss-crossed by 'Dongas', a network of ancient pathways.

The paths, around St Catherine's Hill, were formed over centuries by people walking their animals into market and travelling between ancient sites and monuments.

St Catherine's Hill was a centre of human settlement around 3,000 years ago, long before the founding of Winchester. A fort was constructed in the 3rd century BC, and a Norman chapel was built in the 12th century AD.

The mysterious 'Mismaze' on top of the hill is 624 metres in length and is thought to have been first cut in the 17th Century.

Today the area is a nature reserve, renowned for its flower-rich turf and for butterflies such as the spectacular marbled white. Scrub removal and continued grazing helps maintain the hill's clear open aspect. The presence of cattle and sheep improves conditions for wildlife, recreating the type of traditional chalk landscape last seen in the 1930s.

The area hit the national headlines in the early 1990s when roads protestors, angry at the building of the new M3 extension which included a 400 foot wide and 100 foot deep cutting through the face of the Down.

Twyford Down became a byword for a new generation of protests and brought together people from all over the country, united in their opposition to the scheme.

Groups like Road Alert, Earth First and the 'Donga Tribe' built tree houses and tunnels to delay the work.

Between 1993 and 1995, thousands of people joined in the protests on the site - many were arrested. Although the protests proved unsuccessful in stopping the M3 extension, they greatly added to the cost of the project and are credited with starting a re-think in government road building policy.

A decade after the original protests, the area is once again attracting the attention of environmental protestors as there are controversal proposals to turn public land, given in compensation for the original M3 by-pass, into a park and ride car park.

Emotions unsuprisingly run high over protecting an area that not only dominates the landscape around Winchester, but for centuries has been one of the most spiritual locations in the South and now is ranked alongside the likes of Avebury, Iona and Lindisfarne in the BBC's poll to find the UK's Favourite Spiritual Place.
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