Anyway, took the day off today, after a week of meetings, for a nice long walk in the patchy drizzle. I wanted to explore somewhere new, and the Whitsbury area has been one I've had on my 'to do' list for a while. This is the edge of Cranborne Chase, the picturesque area that includes Martin Down.
I started on a track just a little way along from Salisbury Hospital at Odstock. The map showed I had plenty of choice in terms of footpaths/byways, so planning a route was tricky, but in the end, substrate condition forced my hand (i.e. it was very muddy/flooded!). the walk took me passed Clearbury Down - a SSSI chalk downland and hill fort, with the unimproved nature of the grassland contrasting markedly with the intensive grassland and arable surrounding it.
I eventually ended up walking along the county boundary between Hampshire and Wiltshire, with a very distinctive hedge mostly made up of yew, and filled with birds. I heard several farmland bird species that have experienced a rapid population decline in recent decades, including many corn bunting, a flock of fieldfares, yellowhammer, and possibly some linnet. Check out the RSPB website to hear them for yourselves. The corn bunting, in particular, is a speciality of the Chase area, loving the wide open spaces and lack of hedgerows, although is very rare elsewhere.
This took me to the edge of another SSSI (and SAC - of European importance) - Great Yews. the citation for the site (legal document supporting the SSSI designation) cites it as a nationally-rare habitat, and unusual in being on mostly flat ground and purely yew in some areas. The trees were certainly spectacularly-wide, with estimates of age suggesting most are in excess of 200 years old.