National Grid’s Visual Impact Provision (VIP) project in Dorset is one of the first in the world to replace part of the high-voltage overhead transmission line erected in the 1960s with underground power cables. 

The project has been undertaken solely to restore this beautiful downland landscape and made use of a provision made available by Ofgem. t has seen the permanent removal of 22 pylons over and 8.8km stretch between Winterbourne Abbas near Dorchester and Corton Ridge towards Weymouth. 

This has been a major, complex development project in an environmentally important location, due to its proximity to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. It is one of the most transformative, stakeholder-led projects in a generation, recognising and reclaiming our precious wild spaces and their surroundings. 

As well as the restoration of a stunning landscape, the project eaves a deep legacy of understanding of mankind’s relationship with the land in this area through extensive archaeological finds, which were a welcome and fascinating by-product of the project. 

Dorset VIP in numbers:
Removed from the landscape
Cable delivered to site
At peak construction
22 pylons
5,000 tonnes
150 workers
Of cables installed
Stakeholder meetings over 5 years
Awarded for local projects
108 km
Over 100
Over £80,000

A project led by stakeholders

The entire project was shaped and directed by national and local stakeholders. Campaign groups lobbied for the funding and a national advisory group of landscape specialists selected the section of overhead line. A local group of technical stakeholders advised and made key decisions in the planning phase. Stakeholders and the community were central to the project throughout construction and a positive relationship has developed with the team has been positive throughout.  

Complex and challenging engineering

The rolling Dorset Downs which were dominated by the pylons presented some very real challenges to the engineering team. We needed to bring in specialist equipment and temporarily make some remarkable changes to the profile of the landscape – we even built an ‘Alpine pass’. 

The OshKosh is usually used to transport military tanks but it was the only machine powerful enough to move our 45 tonne cable drums around the site. 

The spider digger is more at home in the Alps but it helped us to lay the cables and restore the landscape on the steep slopes of Corton Ridge. Careful management of water run off was a key challenge and the lessons learned here are being used on the other VIP projects and across National Grid’s construction projects generally. 

cable drums on site compound

Cable drums on site compound

Delivering the cables

Delivering the cables

Cables going underground

Cables going underground

Haul road

Haul road

Inside the jointing tent

Inside the jointing tent

Jointing

Jointing

Spider digger in action

Removing the pylons

In October 2022, stakeholders gathered on site to witness one of the pylons coming down, and the BBC filmed the final pylon being removed from the landscape for the regional news. Two of the 22 were dismantled using a crane due to their sensitive location, while the rest were ‘felled’. This might look remarkably simple, but the felling is the culmination of a detailed technical process carried out by a highly specialist team.

Team and dismantled pylon

Team and dismantled pylon

Pylon in controlled felling

Dismantling the pylon for recycling

Conductor removal

Conductor removal

Restoring the land

Within six months, local landowners & farmers had crops on the land above the cables, and a full restoration process for hedgerows and the more sensitive areas around our former site is now well underway. We are ensuring that the restoration is delivered to the highest standards.  The images below show what the landscape looks like today. 

Dorset restoration
Improved landscape
Dorset landscape

Unearthing the past

Being so close to the Jurassic Coast, we knew that there was a chance we would find some interesting archaeology – and both the County Archaeologist and Historic England were keen to see us digging. What we found was truly amazing and constitutes a Nationally Significant Find that is being analysed and recorded by Oxford Archaeology before one day making its way back to the local community via the County Museum in Dorchester. 

Dorset archaeology in numbers:
Archaeologist days worked
Oxford Archaeology on site
Artefacts found
Over 6,500
20 months
40,000+
Inhumations in Saxon Burial site
Rough date of oldest find
2 long, 10 round excavated
Nearly 200
13000 BC
12 barrows

Digging for history in Dorset

Following the completion of the archaeological programme in summer 2021, we organised a series of webinars to give a taster of the fantastic findings and what they mean.

Led by National Grid’s team including Senior Project Manager, Paul Hamnett, and Project Engineer, Aimee Tavana, together with John Boothroyd of Oxford Archaeology, each webinar focused on a different period in history and featured a contribution from one of the many stakeholders who made the project possible, including Historic England, the Dorset AONB Partnership, and the Dorset County Archaeologist.

Neolthic and Bronze age

Neolithic & Bronze Age

Over the course of the project evidence for life and death during the Neolithic (4000-2500BC) and Bronze Age (2500-800BC) has been uncovered, ranging from funerary monuments to stock enclosures.

Roman era

Works uncovered remains of a small Roman settlement comprising stone buildings with evidence for crop processing and aggregate extraction, along with the remains of a few of the inhabitants.

Early to post medieval

Early to post-Medieval period

The Saxons arrived in west Dorset around the end of the 7th century and the excavation of large cemetery dating to the early-mid 8th century has provided a fantastic insight into the population of the area at this time.

Excavation and artefacts

Archaeologist at work

Archaeologist at work

Late Iron Age and Roman pottery

Late Iron Age and Roman pottery

Roman coin - Radiate of Victorinus

Roman coin - Radiate of Victorinus

Early Bronze Age arrow head

Early Bronze Age arrow head

Burial Excavation within a Roman building

Burial Excavation within a Roman building

Catsbarrow

Catsbarrow

Roman coin - Nummus of Constantius II

Roman coin - Nummus of Constantius II