PEOPLE living in and visiting the Knighton area on the Herefordshire border will notice a change on the horizon later this year – and it’s part of a much bigger plan under the Offa’s Dyke Conservation Project (ODCP).

The conifers above Knighton on Black Hall Farm are being removed this autumn to safeguard this section of Offa’s Dyke, Britain’s longest ancient monument.

“Small clumps of conifer trees are a common sight in the local upland farms, originally planted for shelter as well as for timber,” said Helen Upson, Offa’s Dyke projects officer with Shropshire Council.

“One very visible clump is on Black Hall Farm, and about half of these trees sit right on top of Offa’s Dyke. Unfortunately, as the trees grow, roots find their way into the earthwork and cause damage to buried archaeology.

“The shade cast by the growing trees – especially conifers – kills off the smaller plants like grasses and herbs. This leaves vulnerable bare soil in between the tree trunks. Burrowing animals enjoy the protection of the trees and start digging homes in between the roots. Eventually winter storms and strong winds topple many trees, and in the process the roots tear out whole chunks from the earth.

“One way to prevent this damage is to remove the trees before the severe damage happens, and to cover the monument in something that can form a protective covering – like grass."

This autumn, these conifers next to the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail will be carefully removed in a way that is intended to prevent damage to the delicate ground underneath.

At the right time of year, a mixture of grass and herb seeds will be added to give the bare earth a head start. The national trail will be temporarily closed for public safety during the tree removal – look out for the official notice with precise dates and durations and a diversion route.

Funding for this work has come from the Defra-funded Farming in Protected Landscapes Programme, in collaboration with the new Offa’s Dyke Conservation Project.

Black Hall Farm has a whole-farm plan in place that also includes fencing off water courses and allowing natural regeneration of trees along the steep banks of the streams, better water supplies to enable improved grazing management and fencing near Offa’s Dyke to allow fine-tuning of grazing the monument.

While the Farming in Protected Landscapes programme is open to farmers and land managers in the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Offa’s Dyke Conservation Project is working on a number of sites on both sides of the Powys-Shropshire border.

Offa’s Dyke is Britain’s longest archaeological monument at 82 miles, and one of the most important relics of the early medieval period in Western Europe.