The predecessor of the Ministry of Defence, the War Office, first began buying the land in 1897. The deserted, rolling landscape was perfect for large scale manoeuvres and with the coming of the First World War, it became the Army’s main training area. Over the years more and more land was purchased so that now nearly the whole of the Plain is owned by the MoD.
The training area stretches from Ludgershall and Tidworth in the east to Warminster and Westbury in the west. It is approximately 25 miles long and from six to eight miles wide containing some 94,000 acres. It occupies 11 per cent of the county of Wiltshire.
Facilities exist for all types of weapons training and includes live firing ranges for armoured vehicles, artillery and infantry units. Live firing exercises take place around 340 days a year. The airspace is also used by the Army, RAF and Royal Navy for day and night flying.
Salisbury Plain also contains the village of Imber, which was requisitioned by the War Office and evacuated in 1943. It is still uninhabited, but the church is opened once a year to hold a service.
The Plain is also home to the purpose built village of Copehill Down, which is used for training troops to operate in urban environments.
Facilities at Salisbury Plain are set grow as plans are underway to relocate an extra 4,300 service personnel and their families to the area following the MoD’s commitment to bring back units from Germany by 2020.