Gas firm staff volunteer to safeguard Iron Age hill fort

The SGN team (L-R: Richard Mendham, Glenn Norman, Drew Reynolds, Wayne Edwards, Paul Rose, Andy Scott, Paul James,  Richard Murray, Gavin Brown, Peter Webster, Steve Catling, Maria Fairchild, Iain Fourniss ,Graham Cox, Tracey McIntyre, Rob Instrall and (kneeling) Mark Meloy, Steve Mills, Simon Russell and Steve Harger) take a break from their hard work at Cissbury Ring
The SGN team (L-R: Richard Mendham, Glenn Norman, Drew Reynolds, Wayne Edwards, Paul Rose, Andy Scott, Paul James, Richard Murray, Gavin Brown, Peter Webster, Steve Catling, Maria Fairchild, Iain Fourniss ,Graham Cox, Tracey McIntyre, Rob Instrall and (kneeling) Mark Meloy, Steve Mills, Simon Russell and Steve Harger) take a break from their hard work at Cissbury Ring

Team members from a gas network company have helped to protect an ancient South Downs landmark.

The 18 strong group of senior managers from SGN gave up their time to help the National Trust by working on Cissbury Ring, an Iron Age fort. Located just north of Worthing and dating back more than 5,000 years, Cissbury Ring spans 65 acres. In the Neolithic period, the hill on which it was built was the most important flint mining area in Sussex, and the extensive network of 270 mine shafts are still in evidence today.

The area around the fort is home to a variety of insects, rare birds like skylarks, reptiles such as adders and a host of other wildlife. Part of the Trust’s ongoing management of the historic landmark involves keeping scrub and trees in check to ensure this diversity of wildlife in the chalk grassland habitat is not lost.

Using bow saws and branch loppers, the SGN team helped to cut down a sloping bank of brambles and small trees from the side of one of the hill fort’s ramparts. Under the watchful eye of two fire marshals, they then burned the vegetation they had removed.It was the second year in a row senior managers from SGN had volunteered at the National Trust site, and prior to that they carried out work on the Trust’s Brownsea Island to help preserve the island’s red squirrel population. They offered their support as part of SGN’s Community Action Programme, in which every employee is given one day each year to make a difference in their local community.

Maria Fairchild, personal assistant and one of the volunteers, said: “We were really lucky with the weather because on the two days either side, it had been raining hard. When we first arrived it looked like a pretty daunting task, but we worked solidly and by the end of the day when we saw the difference we’d made, we felt a real sense of achievement.”

Paul Rose, general manager of Southern Operations, also volunteered on the day. He said: “It’s rare for all of us general managers to have the opportunity to get together and focus on something other than work. There was lots of banter during the day and it was a great team building exercise, but what was most rewarding was seeing just how much we got done.”

National Trust Ranger Andy Pearce said he was delighted with what the team had achieved: “Cissbury Ring is a very significant archaeological site, and controlling the spread of scrub and trees is an essential part of protecting this special historic place. Tree roots can destroy archaeological features, and scrub and trees provide shelter for burrowing animals like rabbits, which can also do a lot of damage.

“It was great to work with the SGN team again. We got lots of work done and cleared an impressive 100 metres of the ramparts – important work to protect the rare chalk grassland habitat and the Iron Age hill fort. Now that section of the ramparts has been cleared, we can leave the herd of New Forest ponies that live on Cissbury ring to do their job... grazing off what’s left.”