Work is underway to restore one of Wiltshire's famous white horses to its former glory.

And the conservation team from English Heritage say they would like to keep the iconic monument in Westbury in pristine condition once the work is complete.

They fear hooligans could wreck the eight-week programme to clean and paint the concrete structure by covering it in graffiti.

James Preston, of Wincanton-based experts Sally Strachey Historic Conservation, said: “We had some graffiti between Friday and Saturday before work had even started.

“I came up here on Friday to do some scoping work at the site and there was visible graffiti when I visited again on Saturday.

“The locals need to do their bit by helping to guard the site and reporting any damage.”

Win Scutt, senior properties curator for English Heritage in the West, said: “Every time this happens, it is taking away money that could be better spent on something else.

“We would urge local residents to keep a close watch on the White Horse and report any vandalism and graffiti.”

Wiltshire Times: Tim Dixon weeding and cleaning up the Westbury White Horse. Photo: Trevor Porter 69966-2Tim Dixon weeding and cleaning up the Westbury White Horse. Photo: Trevor Porter 69966-2 (Image: Trevor Porter)

Cleaning and repainting the 180-feet tall landmark is no mean feat: the SSH conservation team will abseil down the near vertical face of the horse to clean, repair and paint it.

SSH is using a ThermaTech steam cleaning process with a special type of jet-washing to remove algae from the horse’s surface blown down from the grassland above.

The joints between the many separate pieces that make up the 1,400 square metre horse will then be repaired through packing and resin-filling.

They will finally apply multiple coats of fresh Keim mineral paint at a cost of £25,000 for the paint alone.

Keim uses a natural a natural silicate bonding process to attach to the concrete and has a durable, long-lasting finish, and a natural composition.

Mr Scutt added: “From a conservation perspective, the ongoing care required by the Westbury White Horse is extremely complex.

“Its position on a steep slope means that we can’t prevent the water run-off from the surrounding grasslands, and it’s this which creates algae build up and makes it unavoidable that the surface turns grey – even with regular cleaning.

“This also means that it is a very costly undertaking.  Westbury White Horse is cared for by our charity and free to enter for the public."

The striking White Horse figure is a much-loved local landmark which has become a symbol for Westbury and Wiltshire - but has been likened to a 'grey mare' in recent times.

The horse's setting in the Bratton Downs Site of Special Scientific Interest means extra care has been taken to avoid substances that could harm or change the habitat throughout the conservation work.

Since 1957 the horse's surface has been defined in concrete. This aged and greyed before being overlaid with a newer surface of white concrete in 1993.

Funded in part by the nearby Lafarge cement works it was hoped it would remain whiter longer and require less maintenance, but sadly this proved not to be the case.

Following research and trials, in 2006 the horse was given a ‘ThermaTech’ clean in a bid to remove the organic growth that makes the surface grey.

This created a clean surface for paint to adhere to and environmentally-friendly Keim Royalan paint was applied.

Three further rounds of cleaning and repainting were carried out by specialist contractors and volunteers in 2011, 2016, and 2018.

A team of five volunteers will help explain the conservation cleaning process, history of the White Horse and share the area’s unique history with visitors.

To become part of this team, click here.