ONE of Wiltshire’s famous white horses is to get a thorough grooming in time for its bicentenary in 2012 with a little bit of help from a helicopter.

The south-facing Alton Barnes White Horse stares out over the Vale of Pewsey from its lofty perch on Milk Hill, Wiltshire’s highest point.

And like all the other white horses in the county, it needs a thorough overhaul every few years to prevent it looking rather more like an old grey mare.

But the Alton hill carving is about to get rather more than just a regular tidy up as it undergoes a full restoration to get it in shape for its 200th anniversary in 2012.

Landowner Tim Carson and Alton Barnes Parish Council are behind the refurbishment that started this week. Next Monday has been provisionally booked for a helicopter to ferry 150 tonnes of new chalk, quarried in south Wiltshire, to give the carving a pristine new coat.

Parish councillor Steve Hepworth has been closely involved in the restoration plans and explained why a helicopter was necessary.

“The white horse stands in the middle of a site of special scientific interest on a national nature reserve with European protection,” he said.

“Natural England controls the management of the land and as part of that management there is no vehicular access.”

Coun Hepworth said that although lorries could be used to transport the chalk to the top of the hill they were banned from driving through the SSSI.

“We looked at many different solutions but the only really viable one was using a helicopter or putting down tracking and using power barrows,” he said.

The estimated cost of £21,000 is being met by grants and the refurbishment is being carried out by specialist environmental contractors Inscape from Bridgenorth.

The Alton Barnes horse has an interesting history in that the original contractor John Thorne who was paid to design and create the horse by local farmer Robert Pile ran off with the money before the carving was completed. Thorne was later hanged for other crimes.