Stephens Castle is a pleasant and popular place for walkers and wildlife enthusiasts, with magnificent views from the higher ground across south east Dorset, and footpath links to North Ringwood Forest.
The 'Castle' is an Iron Age barrow at the top of an old sand and gravel quarry. Legend has it that Stephen was a local tribal chief of great strength. He was supposed to have hurled the 'Stephen stone' half a mile in to Ringwood Forest, no mean feat as the stone weighs around 3 tonnes! The barrow was excavated by archaeologists in the early 20th century, when human remains dating back to the Iron Age were found.
Owner: East Dorset District Council
Managed by: East Dorset Countryside Management Service
- Local Nature Reserve
- Site of Special Scientific Interest
- Scheduled Ancient Monument
- Special Area of Nature Conservation Interest.
Grid reference: SU 090 094
Nearest town: Verwood
Size (Ha): 20 Ha
Nearest bus stop: Ringwood Road, Wilts and Dorset bus route
Nearest train station: Bournemouth (15 miles)
Habitats: Wet and dry lowland heath
History: Verwood once had a thriving pottery and brick industry which was sourced by the abundance of clay and fuelled by the gorse and birch found on the heaths. The arrival of the railway brought a change to the fortunes of the people of Verwood in 1866 by making lighter enamel goods more easily obtainable from around the country. This has resulted in the traditional management techniques being abandoned. Stephens Castle itself was formerly used as a mineral quarry which changed the topography dramatically.
Look out for: The heathland is home to many rare plants and animals, including Sand Lizards, Smooth Snakes, Nightjar and Dartford Warbler. Ponds on the heath also support several species of Dragonfly and Damselfly. It also contains round and oblong leaved sundew, Drosera rotundifolia and Drosera intermedia. The south east corner of the site is home to huge swathes of Bog Asphodel, Narthecium ossifragum and the smaller of the two ponds has got Bladderwort, Utricularia spp growing in it which can be seen flowering in July. This is a protected insectivorous species that forms a network of underwater bladders which trap the food.
Parking: parking is available at the side of Moorlands Road but please do not block access to the Verwood Brass Band HQ or the British Legion.
Accessibility: some paths are very sandy in places and there are some quite steep slopes, accessible kissing gates at all entrances.
Facilities: dog bins at most entrances
How to get there:
From Ringwood Road (B3081) heading west, pass the recreation ground on your right and continue to a roundabout. Take the last exit turning right and follow the road up to another roundabout. Take the last exit turning right again. Follow the signs for the British Legion which will lead you into Moorlands Road.
From 3-Legged Cross (Manor Road, B3072) keep heading north towards Verwood. When you get to the cross road with Ringwood Road turn left and continue to a roundabout. Take the last exit turning right and follow the road up to another roundabout. Take the last exit turning right again. Follow this road around into Moorlands Road.
Stephens Castle has now been grazed by cattle for many years. The beneficial effect of the grazing is particularly clear on the top of the site where the once prolific and unwanted bracken has been virtually eradicated. Although cows will not actually eat the bracken they will trample over it in search of grass and cause such damage to the stem that the plant dies.
Over recent years large areas of dense Gorse and Scrub have been cleared from Stephens Castle. When an area is cleared the following summer sees very vigorous re-growth, much of it dominant and undesirable species such as willow and gorse. Because the new shoots are tender and succulent they are eaten by the cows and so the area remains suitably clear to allow slower growing desirable plants such as heather and sundews to germinate and grow. By carefully timing initial clearance work, regular topping of re-growth and grazing sites such as Stephens can effectively be managed without the need to use any chemical control. This is in fact little more than a repetition of how sites like this have been managed over the last few hundred years.
The site is now grazed throughout the year by Galloway cattle. These are a very tough breed that can easily withstand being out in all weathers and thrive on the rough vegetation found on sites such as Stephens Castle.
Clearance of re-growth will continue over the winters to allow the cattle succulent re-growth in the spring which they can then control. There will also be continued clearance of dense scrub and Gorse in the centre of the site to try and expand the area of Dry heath to the rear of the school. Summer 2008 will see the opening of a new interpretive trail across the site allowing local people and school groups to learn more about the history of the site.
If you would like to find out more about future management plans for Stephens Castle, please contact The Rangers at Moors Valley Country Park.
Name: East Dorset Countryside Management Service
Tel: 01425 470721
Full details for East Dorset Countryside Management Service