A rare set of World War I practice trenches have been granted the highest level of heritage protection by the government. 

The site at Browndown, Gosport is considered to be one of England's best-preserved and most complex systems of training trenches. 

The trenches were constructed to prepare troops on home ground before they were deployed abroad during World War I.

They were rediscovered in 2011 using aerial photos, later being surveyed and mapped by investigators from Historic England. 

Gosport Browndown WW1 TrenchesGosport Browndown WW1 Trenches (Image: Historic England)

But now the site has been designated as a scheduled monument by the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) - the highest level of heritage protection. 

The site was used to teach recruits how to dig, reinforce, repair and adapt the trenches, as well as how to live and fight in them.

They also helped build the physical strength and resilience of new recruits and establish bonds of teamwork, trust and comradeship. 

Olaf Bayer, Archaeological Investigator, Historic England, said: “Hidden beneath thick gorse and heather, the Browndown trenches are a rare reminder of how troops trained in this country before leaving for the Western Front.

"The harrowing experience of trench warfare is one of the defining features of the First World War, yet there are few places in Britain where surviving networks of trenches can be encountered.

"Browndown is one of the best examples left and the site gives us valuable insights into the rigorous training given to recruits facing a new era of industrialised warfare.” 

Gosport Browndown WW1 TrenchesGosport Browndown WW1 Trenches (Image: Historic England)

Historic England’s research has revealed at least two phases of trench digging and how the layout simulates a battlefield, with opposing frontlines and support trenches separated by a ‘no-man’s-land’. 

The idea was to provide ‘textbook’ training environments, mimicking sections of the Western Front.

The Royal Marines Light Infantry and probably the Hampshire Regiment trained at Browndown before leaving for the Front via Southampton.

The site is on Ministry of Defence land south of Alver Valley Country Park but open to the public. 

It also contains evidence of a prehistoric round barrow, a Second World War Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery, and a series of Second World War and later grenade ranges – all of which is now protected as one scheduled monument. 

Gosport Browndown WW1 TrenchesGosport Browndown WW1 Trenches (Image: Historic England)

Cllr Peter Chegwyn, Leader of Gosport Borough Council, said: “We are extremely pleased that the prehistoric round barrow, Browndown trenches and Second World War Heavy Anti-Aircraft (HAA) Battery have been designated as a scheduled monument by Historic England as part of the Gosport Heritage Action Zone.

"This is another fine example of Gosport's rich heritage and the new special status of this land rightly reflects its rarity and national significance and will hopefully help to raise awareness of its fascinating history.”  

Richard Osgood, Senior Archaeologist, Defence Infrastructure Organisation, added: “The scheduling of the Browndown trenches illustrates the historic importance of the physical legacy of training troops for war.

"As owners of a large proportion of these features, the MOD and DIO is committed to being good custodians of the nation’s military heritage.”