North of Salisbury stretches a hundred thousand acres of chalky upland, known as Salisbury Plain; it’s managed by the Ministry of Defence whose presence has protected it from development and intensive farming, thereby preserving species that are all but extinct elsewhere in England. Its empty expanses are home to the country’s only colony of Great Bustards, the world’s heaviest flying bird, which became extinct in the UK in the 1840s. Chicks were re-introduced from Russia in 2004 to a secret location on Salisbury Plain, and the first Great Bustard to be born in the UK in nearly two hundred years appeared in 2009.
Though now largely deserted, in previous times Salisbury Plain positively throbbed with communities. Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements left hundreds of burial mounds scattered over the chalklands, as well as major complexes at Danebury, Badbury, Figsbury, Old Sarum, and, of course, the great circle of Stonehenge, England’s most famous historical monument. To the west, Salisbury’s hinterland also includes one of Wiltshire’s great country mansions, Wilton House.