Blenheim Palace is to dig deep after launching a multi-million pound rescue bid to save the “finest view in England”.
The west Oxfordshire stately home needs to dredge silt from its two lakes because they’ve become so shallow they’re at risk of drying out – which could then cause the iconic Grand Bridge to collapse.
The plan will involve a team of diggers dredging 400,000 tonnes of silt from Queen’s Pool and the centrepiece Blenheim Lake in what is expected to cost the estate around £12million.
Lord Randolph Churchill, father of Sir Winston, reportedly said the sight of the lakes was the “finest view in England” as he passed through the Woodstock Gate in 1874.
The work will start next year following initial investigations this year and will take 20 weeks to complete.
Head of estates Roy Cox said: “There is an absolute certainty that, if we do not do something radical soon, the view will be lost forever.
“We have to act now to safeguard this iconic landscape for future generations to discover and enjoy.”
As well as restoring the lakes to their original 18th century condition, the works will reveal areas of the Grand Bridge, also known as the Vanbrugh Bridge, which have been underwater for more than 100 years.
The lakes are less than 11in (30cm) deep in 70 per cent of their upper areas and will be returned to their original depth of about 6ft 5in (2m).
Mr Cox added: “This will be one of the largest civil engineering projects ever undertaken at a stately home and will need to be completed within a relatively short timeframe to prevent permanent damage both to the lakes and the bridge.
“We will be removing enough silt to entirely fill Wembley Stadium and the logistics of the rescue plan are incredibly complex.”
The problem of the silted river was highlighted by a report last year that warned urgent action was needed.
Blenheim Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Woodstock, was built between 1705 and 1722 as a gift to John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, to celebrate his victory over the French in the War of the Spanish Succession.