Skip to main content
local navigation

Salisbury Plain Training Area NMP

SPTA project locationThe landscape of Salisbury Plain has been actively managed by the army for about 100 years, during which time most of the surrounding chalk upland has been subject to major agricultural activity that has levelled most archaeological remains.

In contrast, remains from earliest prehistory survive on SalisburyPlain as well preserved earthworks. The NMP project aimed to record not only the well known isolated features, but the landscapes in between.

The Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA) Mapping Project was an internal project forming part of English Heritage’s National Mapping Programme (NMP). It grew out of earlier work by the Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments of England, who had been active on the Plain since the creation of Archaeological Site Groups (ASGs) under the auspices of the Salisbury Plain Working Party in 1986.

Previously work had been very largely field based and covered small areas at a large scale. For the NMP project all archaeological features surviving as either upstanding earthworks or visible only as cropmarks were recorded. The 1:10,000 transcriptions are available from the National Monuments Record Centre archive. Data relating to the transcriptions is currently available in the form of MORPH2 records, but the data will be available through AMIE the NMR database in the future.

Further detailed descriptions of the methodology and more in depth interpretations can be found in an internal report available from the NMR, 'Salisbury Plain Training Area: A report for the National Mapping Programme' (Crutchley 2000) and the findings of this project have also been incorporated in the publication 'The Field Archaeology of the Salisbury Plain Training Area' (McOmish, Field and Brown 2001).

Aerial photograph of the Central Impact Area of the Plain (NMR 15042/02). © Crown copyright. NMR.

Aerial photograph of the Central Impact Area of the Plain photographed 22-JUN-1994. In the right foreground is the major Romano-British settlement on Charlton Down that has spread out across the 'Celtic' field system, with its streets leading transversely across the hillside and into the valley. In the distance (top left) is the settlement on Upavon Down. Here it is possible to walk through Romano-British streets in one settlement, through its fields and on, into the next settlement. The small white spots are tank hulks, painted and used as artillery targets (NMR 15042/02). © Crown copyright. NMR.

Salisbury Plain in the twentieth century

In the 1930s OGS Crawford, the founding father of aerial archaeology, noted that Salisbury Plain had been so damaged by military activity that archaeological interest should be concentrated on the Marlborough Downs, with a view to designation as a National Park. Unfortunately his advice was ignored and the archaeology of the Marlborough Downs was systematically destroyed by ploughing, something clearly demonstrated by the results of other NMP projects in the region.

The presence of the military, destructive though it has been in specific areas, has helped to protect the Plain from plough damage. As a result it is now probably the best preserved area of upland in southern Britain, with earthwork remains of field systems, settlements and funerary monuments of various periods. On the Plain it is possible to walk along Romano-British streets in one settlement, through its fields and on, into the next settlement.

The image below taken 70 years before that above shows how little has changed on the Plain in that time compared with much of the rest of southern England.

Charlton Down (CCC 8627/03). © NMR Crown Copyright - Crawford collection.

Charlton Down photographed 12-JAN-1924. Note the "D" shaped enclosure in the middle right that is still clearly visible 70 years later on the modern photograph (CCC 8627/03). © NMR Crown Copyright - Crawford collection.

The images used on this page are copyright English Heritage unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project please contact the English Heritage Archive.

For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Aerial Survey team please contact us by email via the link above.


Aerial Investigation and Mapping - Swindon
Heritage Protection Department

also of interest


The Field Archaeology of the Salisbury Plain Training Area

is available through the English Heritage online bookshop