BLENHEIM Palace has begun one of the biggest civil engineering projects ever undertaken at a British stately home to save its iconic grounds.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site is embarking on a £12m rescue plan of building work, alterations and repairs after decades of silt have left the Queen's Pool and main lake so shallow they risk drying out completely.

The picturesque vista across the lake and over the Grand Bridge is in danger of disappearing, ruining what was once dubbed the 'finest view in England' by Winston Churchill's father Lord Randolph Churchill.

The palace has enlisted the help of a team of environmental consultants and civil engineers to save the view, with initial work starting this autumn.

Over the next two years, the dredging project will see the lakes restored to their original 18th century condition, while the 300-year-old Vanbrugh-designed bridge will receive crucial maintenance.

The ambitious plans are four years in the making and Blenheim's head of estates Roy Cox revealed the palace had gone to great lengths to carry out the work.

He said: “The dredging of Queen’s Pool and the repairs to the Grand Bridge are not only our greatest challenge to date but also marks some of the most ambitious stonework and dredging projects ever attempted in the UK.

“After four years of planning it is great to see the first phase of the project begin."

The multi-million pound plan will see 400,000 tonnes of silt dredged from Queen’s Pool and the main lake.

Initial work includes special siphons and groundwater wells being installed, dams constructed across part of the lake and the water level dropped by up to two metres.

Workers can then inspect the Grand Bridge's foundations to assess what will happen if they are unsupported by water.

This work will also reveal areas of the bridge which have been underwater for centuries, including flooded rooms and several archaeological features.

The original layout of a canal system which pre-dated the bridge, built in 1710, could also become visible.

Once the initial investigation finishes the main work will begin and this is likely to take place at the end of next year and into 2020.

The dredging is part of a far-reaching report outlining Blenheim’s World Heritage Site management plan over the next decade.

This document lays out a vision for the sustainable future of the site and includes key aspects of the management, maintenance and running of the Estate.

The dredging project is funded by several sources, such as visitor admissions income, gift aid donations and the proceeds of development on Blenheim Estate land.

Further funds are being raised through public and corporate donations as well as wider fundraising activity.

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