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Oral history reveals fascinating story of Kingley Vale

Oral history reveals fascinating story of Kingley Vale

“People down in the villages were told to open their windows every Friday afternoon at four o’clock in case the percussion […] broke their windows.”

Earlier this year we met up with inspirational local nature writer Richard Williamson to ask about his memories from a fifty-year career setting up the nature reserve and recording butterflies at Kingley Vale. We showed him our LiDAR pictures of the area to see what he thought.

Richard told us about the evidence he’s seen of Kingley Vale’s extraordinary history from flint mines and bronze-age settlements to WW2 guerrilla hide-outs dug by Canadian soldiers shortly before D-Day.

“I found a human jaw bone.”


“This site was used in the Boer War.”


“They are the size of a house underground.”


When he began his career as an official Government employee creating the nature reserve Richard’s work included clearing bombs from WW2.

“We found 6,000 bombs on the first big clearance and we used to blow them up every Friday afternoon.”


Which effected the work he was doing to improve rare chalk grassland long before the National Park was designated.

“Every now and then […] there’d be an enormous bang as I hit a bomb.”


And it turns out that the grove of ancient yew trees which, at around 500yrs, are among the oldest living things in Britain haven’t always been treated with reverence.

“They used to try and knock out individual yew trees.”


“They killed off 100 trees.”


He told us about the impact of the 1987 storm.

“About 330 yew trees were felled […] but a lot of those trees are still alive.”


Even with all of his experience we managed to surprise him with some of the findings from our LiDARr aerial survey.

“It’s very curious, a huge bank […] it must have been an ownership boundary.”


But it’s his anecdote about the blowing up of a broken down tank that really brings home the meaning and importance of the phrase ‘in living memory’.

“He said: we all went up and stood around waiting for a laugh… they pressed the plunger and, he said, the tank just vanished…”



"The Downs...too much for one pair of eyes, enough to float a whole population in happiness."