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Savernake Forest NMP

Savernake Forest NMP project locationSavernake Forest was chosen to test the use of lidar remote sensing alongside traditional aerial photography. Working with the Forestry Commission and the English Heritage Archaeological Survey and Investigation team the value of using lidar in wooded environments was clearly demonstrated, both for identifying archaeological sites and accurately mapping them.

The project also demonstrated the value of using complementary aerial photographic sources alongside the lidar.

Savernake Forest lies to the south of Marlborough in Wiltshire. The Forest, as its name might suggest, is a largely wooded expanse of land managed by the Forestry Commission and as such might be considered an unpromising site for a survey based on aerial photographs. It was for this reason that the area was chosen as a further test area for the use of the relatively new remote sensing technique of lidar (Light Detection and Ranging), the details of which are described elsewhere.

Although primarily desk-based, the Savernake Forest NMP project also included input from English Heritage’s Archaeological Survey and Investigation team who carried out some detailed ground survey.

Beyond the trees

The interpretation of aerial photos in the areas outside the woodland also revealed a number of sites visible as cropmarks that helped to place similar features within the wood in their context. Of particular interest were the remains of a villa which had been previously recorded, but air photo interpretation revealed significant details of its layout.

A Roman villa near Savernake Forest (NMR 4621/15). ©  Crown copyright. NMR.

A Roman villa near Savernake Forest photographed on 16-JUL-1990. On this photograph it is possible not only to see the main walls of the villa, but also some internal detail such as the bases of pillars towards the top of the image(NMR 4621/15). © Crown copyright. NMR.

World War II

Savernake Forest was used as an ammunition dump by both the British and US Armies during the Second World War and it was hoped that evidence of this activity might be visible on aerial photographs from the time. This was the case and sorties flown in the spring of 1944 proved particularly helpful as the leafless trees revealed evidence of the bunkers and storage areas beneath them.

Ammunition storage in Savernake Forest (US7PHGP/LOC/209 5019). English Heritage (NMR) USAAF collection.

The numerous areas of dispersed ammunition storage in Savernake Forest photographed by the USAAF on 08-MAR-1944 (US7PHGP/LOC/209 5019). English Heritage (NMR) USAAF collection.

Combining techniques

The lidar survey, described in detail elsewhere, recorded some very unusual irregular banked enclosures that were difficult to interpret and unlike anything else in the forest. Examination on the ground revealed these to be very irregular in form and without evidence for any ditch. Comparison with the historic aerial photographs taken during and immediately after the Second World War showed that apparently these had a connection with the ammunition dumps described above.

They are interpreted as areas of clearance, possibly by bulldozers levelling the ground prior to the construction of shelters. Unfortunately they do not appear on the photographs showing the shelters so an alternative explanation is that they are the result of levelling ground after the shelters were removed, possibly filling in any trenches that may have been dug at that time.

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.

NMP map extract. © copyright English Heritage.

NMP map extract showing the collocation of the banked features (red) with ammunition storage dumps (purple) recorded from wartime aerial photographs. Air photo mapping © English Heritage. NMR. © Crown Copyright and database right 2009. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100019088. 2009


Aerial Investigation and Mapping - Swindon
Heritage Protection Department

also of interest

For details of the results of this project see the Savernake Forest NMP project report

Cover of Savernake NMP report