ONE of the oldest national nature reserves in England has been de-listed after changing hands.

Fyfield Down, just east of the famous stone circle at Avebury near Marlborough, lost its status in August last year, with a public notice going on the GOV.UK website in September, but only now are people starting to realise.

The site, which is in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, spans 577 acres including Fyfield and the nearby Overton Downs. It was leased to the Nature Conservancy Council in 1955 and became a national reserve a year later. The organisation managing it eventually became Natural England.

Swindon Advertiser: Fyfield Down Photo: Steve BassentFyfield Down Photo: Steve Bassent

But the BBC’s Countryfile reported its ownership changed in 2015 and the new owners, Kingsdown Farm Ltd, said in 2019 it did not want it to remain a reserve. Natural England announced it would no longer manage it.

Wessex area manager Rachel Williams told Countryfile: “The land remains a site of special scientificiInterest and the de-declaration does not include any changes to public access arrangements.

“We will continue to work with the landowner to ensure continued protection for the special habitats and archaeological features that the site supports.”

Swindon Advertiser: Sarsen Stones on Fyfield Down - Photo: Phil MessengerSarsen Stones on Fyfield Down - Photo: Phil Messenger

There are strict rules governing what can be done to land covered by national nature reserves, which were established to protect wildlife habitats, species and geology.

Fyfield is known for its ancient sarsen stones,  important populations of hares and birds such as skylarks and yellowhammers and it is part of the Avebury World Heritage Site.

It is also the home of the famous Polisher Stone which has deep grooves in it because it was used to shape and sharpen flint axes dating back to neolithic times.

It’s not known why the owners decided to de-list the site.

Swindon Advertiser: The Polisher Stone - Photo: Steve BassentThe Polisher Stone - Photo: Steve Bassent

Natural England added: “A new Countryside Stewardship agreement is now in place to support ongoing management. This includes new interpretation boards designed in conjunction with the World Heritage Site and Historic England.”