THE finishing touches are being put to a £40 million mansion being built near Shaftesbury.

The three-storey house, set in 225 acres of parkland on the Dorset/Wiltshire border, belongs to Lord Rothermere and is said to be the largest new home to be constructed in the south of England.

The 35-year-old aristocrat, whose family own the Daily Mail group, and his wife Claudia called upon the services of a team of first class architects and craftsmen to build their visionary country home - they already have a multi-million town house in London.

Salisbury planners granted permission for the stately home in 1999 as a rebuild of the former Ferne House, previously owned by the Dukes of Hamilton and demolished in the 1960s. There were no objections.

In a report at the time the house was described as being similar in style to Kingston Lacy near Wimborne.

"It is a Palladian design with a projecting two-storey pedimented and columned portico.

"The site has commanding views northwards and therefore it is anticipated that the house will be visible from a distance from that direction and will form a feature in the landscape of the (Cranborne Chase) Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty."

Inside it's rumoured that "forests" of oak were felled to line the floors, walls and staircases while carved gargoyles adorn the exterior of the Queen Mary-style edifice.

The ground floor contains a drawing room, library, dining room, kitchen and children's dining room.

On the first floor there are four bedrooms including the master suite with a further four bedrooms on the second floor plus nanny's quarters and playroom.

All bathrooms are said to be made from solid marble and the domestic staff quarters below stairs feature no fewer than 20 rooms including garden chairs room, boot room, gun room, wine store, study and staff sitting room.

Outside manicured lawns sweep away from the property, which is situated close to Ashdown House - home of Madonna and Guy Ritchie.