Fishing 4 Litter

Ana Cowie – Marine Pollution Officer, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

Marine pollution is one of the biggest threats to our oceans’ health; plastic is found almost everywhere, causing ingestion by or entanglement of marine wildlife. 20,000 tonnes of plastic are dumped in the North Sea every year and only 15% of that is washed ashore – the rest is still out at sea. Studies have shown that 98% of fulmars (grey and white seabirds related to the albatross) in the North Sea had plastics in their stomach, averaging a shocking 34 pieces per bird.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is tackling the problem of plastic pollution through a variety of projects. This includes Fishing 4 Litter, which is a voluntary scheme that involves the direct removal of litter from the sea, and raises awareness of the problem inside the fishing industry at the same time. Studies have shown that marine litter costs the fishing industry an average of £10,000 per boat, per year – through contamination of catches, broken gear and fouled propellers. In addition, it’s calculated that it takes approximately 41 hours each year to remove marine debris from just one boat’s nets. It is therefore essential that continued action can be taken to reduce what is currently a significant marine pollution problem.

Fishing 4 Litter has two aims; to maintain a network of harbours around the country so that participating boats can land the marine litter they have caught in their nets, and to change working practices within the fishing industry – hopefully preventing litter from reaching the marine environment in the first place.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust place (and regularly empty) dedicated rubbish bins for marine litter, or discarded fishing gear, at various ports and harbours in the region. This project has been successfully running for five years now and has been extended to encompass North Yorkshire due to its popularity with the industry. There are currently eight bins along the East and North coast of Yorkshire, from Withernsea all the way up to Staithes. In 2018, it’s estimated that 25 tonnes of litter will have been removed from these bins through the Fishing 4 Litter scheme. That’s 25 tonnes that will not be entering our sea!

I do this job because I believe that through education and awareness, our marine wildlife can recover from past decline if we all do our bit now. My job is to inspire people about our marine wildlife and teach them why we should value the sea, from the air we breathe to being peoples livelihood. We all have a duty to protect this vital resource and we are at a risk of losing it right now! There is often a disconnect when it comes to the marine environment (out of sight out of mind) so this is one of my biggest challenges. If people knew what marine pollution is doing to the environment on a daily basis I believe that everyone would think twice about dropping litter.

Coast by Ebor Images

The Everyday, the Intriguing and the Odd

Louis Monntero – Land of Iron Archaeological Finds Intern

This summer I have been granted the privilege of working with the Heritage Fund‘s Land of Iron Landscape Partnership as an Archaeological Finds Intern, through the Santander Internship Programme at Durham University.

My internship deals with the processing of small and bulk finds from the community excavations conducted over the last few years (Combs Wood, Goathland, etc.). I have a range of responsibilities: cleaning, marking, labelling, documenting, and photographing so that the finds are ready for both display and archive with the Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum. I am also responsible for leading the training of any volunteers we have for these tasks.

The volunteers during my internship thus far have been fantastic, and I’m always impressed by their dedication towards the project. Contrary to my belief that they would only be interested in the excavation side of archaeology, we have a multitude of volunteers offering their services for just about any task you can imagine.

Post-excavation finds processing can be long work at times, but that’s not to say that it isn’t rewarding, as I have learned first-hand. All the finds from years past end up on the desks of myself and my fellow intern, Sara. Over these past few weeks, we have seen both the every day as well as the more intriguing (and occasionally the odd).

Today, I’d like to share some of my personal favourites with you.

The Everyday

Perhaps some of the most interesting items to come from the excavations have emerged from Goathland Incline.

In order to overcome the steep incline between Beck Hole and Goathland, over which horses were unable to haul locomotives, Whitby and Pickering Railway installed a hydraulic lift. The abandoned reservoir from this system was later used as a a rubbish dump by locals, and it was from here that we’ve had most of our finds, as well as some of the most well-preserved glassware and pottery.

It may not look like much at first glance, but this salt or pepper cellar quickly became one of the things that I became intrigued by. Instead of the presence of a logo or some other feature, embossed upon the base is the word ‘foreign’.

My initial thought was that this was likely for economic purposes, ruling out the label as a means to denote this as a prestige good. The main parallel that this drew for me was with country of origin markings used to impose tariffs (e.g. ‘Made in China’). Perhaps this was from a period which predated a requirement to list the specific country of origin.

The Intriguing

Let me first defend myself in my choice of this item. Those who are familiar with Victorian archaeology will immediately note that this is a poison bottle, which is not that uncommon a find. Poison bottles were primarily green, but they could also be a range of colours from a deep blue like this, to clear, or even a brown. The green was supposed to immediately stand out and warn any would-be drinkers about the contents; however, there were some other safety precautions as well. Embossed upon the side of the bottles are usually some variation of the words ‘NOT TO BE TAKEN’ or ‘POISONOUS’. Should that too be missed, bottles were made to feel poisonous; they characteristically had “ribs”, either vertically or horizontally.

FIND - poison bottle. Copyright NYMNPA.

So why did I pick this item? Well, at Goathland Incline, the reservoir was used as a rubbish pit for some time. As I was sifting through some of the finds, I noted the similarities between the colourful glasswork of the Victorian Era as well as that of the 1900s, when a variety of glasswork known as “carnival glass” increased in popularity. It was surprising to me that such bottle colours became destigmatised in such a short period of time. Indeed, carnival glass, with its bright colours, was often highly sought after, being awarded as prizes at fairs and carnivals, leading to its name.

The Odd

This was probably one of the most bizarre finds that I have come across thus far. The design itself is not a popular one; however, more interesting is the level of detail that was applied in its creation.

Upon closer inspection, the face was found to feature many smaller details such as hair and ears (when viewed from the side), jawline, and the philtrum (the little cleft underneath your nose). The use of colour; blue for the eyes, black for the eyelashes, and red for the cheeks; all further display the thought that went into the design of this object.

Perhaps this find was purchased humorously as an unwanted gift, as it is still largely intact. Perhaps it was thrown out as the individual who purchased it grew out of their previous tastes. I’m hoping to look more into this sort of pottery later on.

All of these finds were simple enough to prepare for archive, as we tend to avoid marking the glassware as well as the glazed pottery, removing an extra step from the process. Nonetheless, we needed to both photograph the profile of this glassware, as well as the base to ensure all of the key features were visually recorded. This was to allow for the creation of a digital archive, so that researchers might be able to remotely access the collection.

Louis at work. Copyright NYMNPA.

Overall, I’m enjoying my time here. I’ve learned new skills and can carry out tasks safely, efficiently, and independently. I’ve been able to handle a range of artefacts with differing properties, and have been taught how to process them. It’s a pleasure to work with the Land of Iron team, and especially with the volunteers and the local community, who always take a friendly interest in what we’re doing.

For more information on the Land of Iron please see our webpages, email us or phone on 01439 772700.

Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme logos

Short term closure for a good cause

David Mennear – Land of Iron Administration Assistant

TEMPORARY CLOSURE OF ROSEDALE RAILWAY PUBLIC ACCESS ROUTE BETWEEN BLAKEY RIDGE CAR PARK & REEKING GILL
8 JULY – 30 SEPT 2019

Summer is in full swing now and the North York Moors is a great environment to take in a breath of fresh air surrounded by wonderfully diverse and rich landscapes.

In looking at a landscape in the UK it’s always useful to remember that it’s been shaped by people throughout history. Relics of an industrial age in the North York Moors still take visitors by surprise coming across Rosedale Bank Top kilns or the Rosedale East iron and stone kilns; silent majestic structures today overlooking the dale that once roared with the noise of the mining, processing and transporting of local ironstone.

Rosedale Dale Head with railway route and water tower. Copyright NYMNPA.

Rosedale is a highly distinctive landscape; with a bit of understanding it’s possible to trace the influences of the ironstone industry on its shapes. The ironstone ore was found in particularly rich seams at Rosedale, once extracted it was calcined (roasted) on site to purify the ore before being hauled away on the railway network to places such as Teesside. Here it was turned into iron via blast furnaces and used in construction projects across the world.

Rosedale East new mines highlighting the top and bottom trackways to deliver the ironstone into the kilns and to take it away once it has been purified. Photograph courtesy of the Rosedale History Society Archive.

Rosedale kilns and railway wagons, a detail of the process to move the ironstone. Photograph courtesy of the Rosedale History Society Archive.The Rosedale Railway line made mining ironstone at this location both accessible and financially feasible. Today you can still see the line of the railway hugging the hillsides of the dale, which can be traced with the naked eye for up to 16 kms at many points.  Although it has been 90 years since the track closure the Rosedale Railway still retains its allure for visitors to the area, even as nature has reclaimed much of the track-bed area. This natural change in a previously heavily industrialised landscape now long passed its original function has led to a number of issues, including landslips and flooding episodes as wear and tear damage the route due to a lack of maintenance. Soil degradation from so-called desire-lines walked by people have also added to the erosion of nearby ground, further weakening the trackway.

Rosedale East Kilns with Rosedale Railway line in front. The railway fencing has been installed through the Land of Iron LPS. Copyright NYMNPA.

As part of the Land of Iron Landscape Partnership scheme funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the David Ross Foundation, we have been hard at work helping to conserve the ironstone heritage and enhance the ecology of the associated landscape. An important part of this is recognising where access for the public can be improved upon so people can experience history in situ. It has been acknowledged for some time that the Rosedale Railway, now an iconic route traversing the original mineral railway route around the head of the dale, was in need of major improvement to maintain its integrity as a public access route.

So the more intrepid local explorers among you may have noticed that the Rosedale Railway route is currently closed from Blakey Ridge car park to Reeking Gill due to temporary construction works. From 8 July until 30 September 2019 this 2km long stretch of the northern end of the Rosedale Railway is undergoing reinforcement to help improve access and drainage capability.

Temporary Open Access Closure Sign

For members of the public the temporary open access closure means taking notice of the signage and barriers. Please keep clear of the works area as there are heavy machines on-site throughout the length of works. Here at the Land of Iron we do appreciate that this may cause temporary frustration for visitors, the summer is the best time to carry out the work before bad weather means machinery could get stuck and sensitive habitats could be damaged – we promise you that it will be well worth it once the works have been complete. The work will ensure long-term stability of the path and improved access for members of the public, including disability access. This will help encourage greater exploration of a hidden landscape gem within the North York Moors and help to ensure that historic features and ecological habitats at this location are cared about long into the future.

For information on the Land of Iron please see our website pages or phone the Land of Iron team on 01439 772700 for exciting volunteer opportunities and to find out what we are up to. If you have any questions please do drop us an email

Land of Iron logos

Let Ryevitalise begin!

Alex Cripps – Ryevitalise Programme Manager

For the last two years we have been leading on the development of Ryevitalise, a landscape partnership scheme focusing on the River Rye and its tributaries.

So we are really delighted to report that we were successful with the final Stage Two application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and have been awarded nearly £2 million towards the delivery of this fantastic four-year scheme – starting now.

Top of the Rye Catchment. Copyright NYMNPA.

With match funding included Ryevitalise is a £3.4 million programme in total, focusing on three key themes:

  • Water quality and the environment – restoring and conserving the aquatic habitats of the Rye and the rare and threatened species that the river and wider landscape supports;
  • Water Level Management – harnessing natural flood processes to create a more naturally functioning river; and
  • Reconnecting people – improving the understanding of the river landscape by telling the story of its evolution and encouraging people to protect their heritage.

River Rye - copyright NYMNPA.

Ryevitalise is very much a partner-led scheme with over 15 organisations working together to deliver their common goals across this part of the River Rye catchment. The River Rye and its tributaries meander through a variety of landscapes including moorland, upland farmland and lowland arable and livestock farmland; crossing over the National Park boundary into the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and into the non-designated wider Ryedale beyond. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to work closely with partners like the the Howardian Hills AONB, Ryedale District Council and the Environment Agency.  The North York Moors National Park Authority itself is the lead partner and we’re currently recruiting the delivery team.

Rye at Ness. Copyright Liz Bassindale, Howardian Hills AONB.

I’ve recently been appointed as the Ryevitalise Programme Manager and I’m really excited about this amazing opportunity to share my enthusiasm for rivers and the fascinating wildlife that the freshwater habitats and the surrounding areas support. One of the main goals is to reconnect people with nature and our river environments. I am really keen to raise the profile of rivers by looking at how valuable these ecosystems are, and how important they are to people both within the Ryevitalise area itself but also beyond. Over the next four years we will be working alongside local communities, including land managers and young people, reconnecting people to their local river systems and exploring how simple every day actions to help care for our rivers can collectively make a huge, positive difference.

There will be lots of opportunities to get involved, from practical conservation tasks such as Himalayan balsam control to species monitoring. There will also be a programme of expert talks, exhibitions and discovery events. Keep an eye on social media, our website or this blog for further updates once the new team are up and running.

If you are keen to get involved at the start please get in touch, perhaps you are a member of a local community group wanting to know more, a local land manager interested in improving water quality, or you would like to sign up as a Ryevitalise Volunteer – it would be great to hear from you!

National Lottery Heritage Fund logo

What to do on a Sunday …

David Mennear – Land of Iron Administration Assistant

This coming Sunday the Moors National Park Centre at Danby (YO21 2NB) is hosting a family friendly fun day to celebrate the brand new immersive experience on offer. With funding from the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund and the David Ross Foundation, the Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme has been helping to reinvigorate the interpretation resources at the Visitor Centre over the last few months.

Escape to the Moors is taking place on Sunday 21 July from 11 am until 4 pm. The event will celebrate the people and the natural and historical heritage of the North York Moors through workshops, family attractions and children activities all taking place in the grounds of the Moors Centre; whilst the Centre itself will be open for everyone to have a look at the new interpretation.

The new interpretation features the beauty and significance of the North York Moors, alongside the ironstone mining heritage of the area. The ironstone mining period was an era of rapid industrial growth in the 19th and early 20th centuries that saw the workings of the railways, mines, and huge calcining kilns in the heart of the North York Moors itself. For years the mined ironstone was refined and transported away to be used in construction projects across the world, helping to cement the industrial growth of Britain during this recent period of history.

Using the latest digital technologies and archaeological and ecological techniques, through our innovative interpretation we are helping to present the historical and natural heritage of the North York Moors for a new audience. You might be surprised to see how fast built heritage can quickly disappear back into nature once again, just leaving traces to be discovered.

Moors National Park Centre - almost there with the new interpretation. Copyright NYMNPA.

This is what’s coming up on the day:

  • The trailblazing Land of Iron tells the story of ironstone and railways in the North York Moors – build an ironstone foam bridge, excavate at a mini-dig, learn about industrious Victorians and handle artefacts, tackle the 3D jigsaw puzzle and lots more.
  • Whilst the Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum in Skinningrove is closed for refurbishment the team will be bringing their incredible pop up museum to the Moors Centre. Celebrate the history of a long lost industry and the stories of the everyday people involved as you travel down a make shift mine tunnel.
  • Our Moors and Valleys Young Archaeologists’ Club officer will be there to let you know about the exciting activities the Club gets up to.
  • Through the Rosedale History Society learn all about how the small and sleepy medieval village of Rosedale Abbey drastically changed as it thundered into life during the industrial revolution as ironstone mines and calcining kilns appeared around the Rosedale hills and dale. Now known for its bucolic countryside beauty and isolation, Rosedale was once a beating heart of British industry on the international stage.
  • Experience history with the wonderful living history and reenactment group Rosa Mundi – there’ll be medieval spear practice and military drills as well as trying out candle-dipping and other traditional crafts along with games and cooking demonstrations.
  • Be digitally dazzled as Adrian Glasser presents his amazing Time Sliders where historic photographs blend into the modern landscape – learn all about 3D modelling with an introduction to photogrammetry and how this incredible technique is capturing key Land of Iron monuments for the future.
  • Cleveland Fibre Arts will be demonstrating how ironstone helps to give wood and felt-making distinctive colours and patterns. Join in and help make your own!
  • Join the Whitby Company of Archers to have-a-go at archery and discover your inner Robin Hood (charges apply).
  • The Teesoutdoors Climbing Tower will be on site and as well as climbing the tower under the expert guidance of the qualified instructors, you can pick up climbing tips and find out the best places to climb in the North York Moors (charges apply).
  • Ride the Grosmont Velocipede around the Moors Centre grounds – have you ever tried a velocipede before? why not give it a whirl on a 100ft of rail track as members of the team push you around! It might just be the oddest thing you do that Sunday.

The Moors National Park Centre, Danby. Credit Chris J Parker.

Further information
The event is accessible by wheelchair, with toilet facilities and a café on-site.
If you are travelling into Danby from further afield please think about using the local Moorsbus and other public transport options such as the Esk Valley Railway which stops at at Danby Station and has links to Middlesbrough and Whitby.

Have a look at the National Park website for further information and updates.

For information on the Land of Iron please see our website or telephone the Land of Iron team on 01439 772700 for exciting volunteer opportunities and to find out what we are up to.

Land of Iron logo band

 

Apprentices go all-a-Broad

Lisa Till – Coast Area Apprentice Ranger

At the end of May, six of us North York Moors National Park Authority’s Apprentices got the fantastic opportunity to take part in an Apprentice Exchange in the beautiful Broads. After a long drive down to the village of Coltishall, we received a lovely welcome at the Girl Guiding Lodge we were staying in from the Broads Apprentices who were hosting us. After a lot of introductions to the apprentices from the South Downs, Yorkshire Dales, and the Broads, the evening was filled with presentations from each National Park along with a plentiful BBQ arranged by Graeme and Polly, the Broads Rangers who had organised the whole trip.

On the next morning we all headed out first thing to Geldeston, where we met up with more Rangers from the Broads and went on a canoe trail along the River Waveney to Beccles. Out in the canoes for an hour and a half, we found that the best way to experience the Broads is definitely by boat. Our trail took us along a lovely tranquil stretch of river, showing us just a glimpse of the great scenery and wildlife there is on offer. The trip on the water also gave us chance to learn about the responsibility the Broads Authority has to maintain the navigation, along with stories of speeding boats and the inevitable accidents that occur. Back on dry land, and with only one canoe having capsized, we headed back to the minibus and on to our next adventure.

After a lunch break, where we were lucky enough to spot a Long-Eared Bat, we were taken on a guided walk by Ranger Stephen Fairbrass around part of Hickling Broad. Hickling Broad, like most of the Broads, is a result of peat digging in the 12th to 14th centuries where the area then flooded due to sea-level rise, an issue the Broads are continually facing. We were shown the last working Eel Sett in the east of England at Candle Dyke, and we spotted a Chinese Water Deer and saw the Konik ponies; both species graze the area.

After a fantastic home-made lasagne for tea back at the base, we were out again onto the waterways for a trip on the solar powered boat ‘Ra’ on the Whitlingham Great Broad at Whitlingham Country Park. We had a fantastic hour trip, and Captain Mark told us all about the fascinating history of the area and its wildlife. ‘Ra’ was Britain’s first solar-powered passenger boat, and with the City of Norwich so close if offers a great chance to view wildlife of the Broads so near to the city.  We all ended up in Norwich for a brilliant end to the day for a pub quiz at the Fat Cat Pub. Other employees of the Broads Authority joined us for additional brain power, but unfortunately even with around 20 of us we still didn’t manage to beat the locals.

Thursday began bright and early and we were all straight out to meet Volunteer Pete Morgan at St Benet’s Abbey, which 1000 years ago was a prosperous monastery. Pete gave us a brilliant guided tour of the Abbey remains and the setting. Back in Tudor times when King Henry VIII closed down monasteries across the country, St Benet’s remained the only one never officially shut down.

We left the Abbey on foot and walked towards How Hill along the River Ant – what with the sun shining, an ice cream stop was definitely in order. At How Hill we looked around Toad Hole Cottage, a traditional Marshman’s Cottage. There used to be plenty of Marshmen in the Broads, working across vast areas cutting and collecting reeds whilst managing the land with drainage and cattle. However, the growth of machinery has meant this way of life has slowly died out; the cottage at How Hill still shows how these families used to live and work.

As no trip is complete without a trip to the beach, so next we headed out to the coast. The beach at Horsey Gap gave us a chance for a paddle (even a dip for some). It is well known for its grey seal colony and we spotted some friendly seals popping their heads above the water. We soon had to head off again this time to Brandeston Village Hall to see a local theatre production called ‘Tide Jetty’. The play was a dramatic love story reflecting life growing up in the Broads, which was a perfect way to end our time spent together.

As Friday morning came we all said our goodbyes over our final breakfast together, before heading back to our own National Parks. The trip was a great experience to see another National Park whose landscapes and challenges are different to the North York Moors. As our National Park Authority has had apprentices for many years, the Apprentices and Rangers at the Broads were interested in how our programme runs and we all learnt a lot about the range of apprenticeships on offer. Our North York Moors group had apprentices from planning, tourism, and the ranger services which shows the diverse apprenticeship opportunities available. A big focus of the trip was to remind us all that although we work all over the country, we’re all part of one ‘National Park Family’ and it is always good to discuss ideas and to praise and support each other whenever possible. Huge thanks to Graeme, Polly, and everyone else who helped from the Broads Authority for being such brilliant hosts and showing us all the best bits that the Broads has to offer.

Apprentice on the Beach.Added Footnote
‘I can’t speak highly enough of the apprentices, the National Parks will be in safe hands and you should be very proud’.
Graeme Hewitt, Broads Authority Senior Ranger who organised and hosted the trip.

 

What’s for dinner?

When the funding behind projects comes to an end sometimes the drive and actions generated can inadvertently fizzle out too. The hardest thing to achieve is making the drive and actions self-sustaining so that without the initial funding and without particular individuals those things become habitual, more likely to continue and grow than not.

One such initiative hoping to achieve sustainability is Signature Seafood Yorkshire with its emphasis on locally sourced, seasonally available fish. Not only does this initiative support sustainable fishing* it also aims to be a self-sustaining concept built out of encouraging culinary knowledge, and creating and maintaining local demand in the longer term. Like other successful concepts it includes aspects of the past e.g. the continuing traditions of fishing, and varieties like Whiting and Mackerel, with a modern twist e.g. à la mode recipes, outlets on social media.

Have a look here to find out more – like where to get your Yorkshire seafood and also to access a collection of recipes using seafood sustainably caught off the Yorkshire Coast.

Signature Seafood Yorkshire logo

*Sustainable fishing isn’t difficult to imagine, it’s where the amount of fish caught leaves a viable population and where the fishing methods used don’t irreversibly damage the biodiversity and habitats that support the fish population. There are a number of conservation designations – Special Protection Area, Special Area of Conservation, Site of Special Scientific Interest, Marine Protection Area, Marine Conservation Zone – along the north and east Yorkshire coast because of the importance of the habitats here.

Coastal landscape near Port Mulgrave - tide out. Copyright NYMNPA.

Cumulative enhancements: Part One

Briony Fox – Director of Conservation

Over the last two years, a number of projects have been delivered to enhance the landscape and ecology of the North York Moors National Park.

These projects have been delivered under four key themes – Access, Environment, Cultural Heritage and Tranquility; all related to the special qualities of the National Park.

Here’s a few examples…

Upgrades to Rights of Way such as at Boggle Hole where improvements have been made to the bridleway to the beach by removing steps.

Boggle Hole - before. Copyright NYMNPA.

Boggle Hole - after. Copyright NYMNPA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riverbank in poor condition. Copyright NYMNPA.

The restoration of river bank habitat on the river Esk by fencing (to prevent trampling by grazing animals) and planting trees which will in turn stabilise the banks and prevent sediment entering the river, so enhancing water quality which is essential for endangered species such as Freshwater Pearl Mussel.

Tree planting and fencing works to stabilise the bankside. Copyright NYMNPA.

Drystone wall, Coxwold - before repair. Copyright NYMNPA.

 

Restoration of historic landscape features such as our iconic dry stone walls

 

Drystone wall, Coxwold - after repair. Copyright NYMNPA.

Commissioning of a Dark Skies Audit to understand where the darkest skies in the park are and to inform policy and a new management plan related to protecting the dark sky asset.

2019 light pollution map of the NYM area with survey points (yellow / green dots) shown.

Areas with the most light pollution are shown in yellow / orange while darker areas are grey. This work will help us to prioritise our efforts to keep our darker areas dark and reduce pollution in our brightest areas.

This is just a snapshot of what we’re doing to enhance the National Park area through this project and this work will continue long into the future. Other work includes ongoing woodland creation to offset carbon emissions and promoting the fabulous activities and opportunities that the North York Moors offers for visitors.

This is only the start.

Standing up for standing stones

Nick Mason – Archaeology Officer

In the last couple of Monuments for the Future inspired blogs, we’ve looked at the hillforts and barrows of the North York Moors. This time we’ll ponder another monument type which often springs to mind when we think of prehistoric archaeology visible in the landscape today: standing stones.

The North York Moors has an abundance of stones set upright in the ground for various reasons. Not all of these stones are prehistoric: indeed the Historic Environment Record records 161 individual stones across the park recorded as ‘standing stones’, of which 129 are of likely prehistoric origin. But there are a further 1459 monuments recorded as ‘boundary stones’ with a medieval or later explanation. The distinction between standing stone and boundary stone is not always completely clear, as we shall see below, but these figures do mean that erected stones of one sort or another account for approximately 8.5% of all recorded monuments in the North York Moors. Let’s not even think about the number of historic gateposts out there…

People started to erect standing stones across the country in the late Neolithic period (2500-3000 BC), and carried on doing so up to the end of the Bronze Age around 700 BC. Like much of prehistoric archaeology, it can be very hard to know what was going on and to impose definitions on these big lumps of rock. Sometimes multiple stones are used in conjunction to create circles (often referred to as henges) or other shapes, or long rows stretching hundreds of metres, and then others stand alone. But why were people doing this?

It’s a long running joke in archaeology that if we don’t understand the function of a feature then it must be part of a long forgotten ritual, but for many surviving prehistoric features it seems that that is the most likely explanation. Some stones are associated with other features, such as a large slab next to a bridleway over Danby Rigg which forms part of a cairn under which Victorian archaeologists found deposited urns. Others accompany barrows, pits or stone-lined chambers. The common theme so far is death and burial: were people using standing stones to mark the spots belonging to the dead? were they a commemoration, in the same way we use gravestones and memorials today? or perhaps the stone warned others not to get too close…

Danby Rigg standing stone and ring cairn. Copyright NYMNPA.

Whilst many stones may have been raised to honour the dead or perform ritual practices around, others may have had a more mundane but useful purpose. If you’ve been out and about on the moors you’ll know how disorientating they can be, especially in bad weather. The last thing you want to do is get lost and stumble into someone’s barrow, and so we think some stones might have been erected as way markers, as a familiar point in the landscape to meet at or to help get you home.

Over time, some stones gathered cup and ring marks, and people buried items around them. These stones might be crossing the gap between the sacred and the profane, a physical object people can relate to, but which represents far more than the sum of its parts.

I mentioned at the start that there is not a clear distinction between some standing stones and modern boundaries. Some continue to have a function today, having been re-used by people looking to make their mark. A great example is the Cammon Stone, which stands on the parish boundary between Bransdale and Farndale West. This was initially erected on the watershed by prehistoric inhabitants of the area, perhaps marking a territorial boundary or route. At some point in the post-medieval period letters were carved into it, proclaiming the land ownership to anyone who came past. Then in the 19th century someone wrote ‘Hallelujah’ on it, followed by the Ordnance Survey who inscribed a survey benchmark into the base! So over the years the Cammon Stone has served as a boundary symbol for different cultures, in multiple religious functions, and as part of the very modern practice of mapping.

Cammon Stone with inscriptions. Copyright NYMNPA.

 

Cammon Stone with further inscriptions. Copyright NYMNPA.Another stone which might represent different sacred uses is Low Cross, just north of Appleton-le-Moors. This curious piece of limestone, with a hole cut right through it, started life as a large prehistoric stone, but was transformed into a wayside cross by some enterprising mediaeval person. It probably served a very similar function in this role, reminding people of their religion and marking out a safe route. Since then it has fallen apart, a plaque seems to have come and gone, and it’s thought the hole might have been used to pay tolls, but it remains in place today as a lasting reminder of the people who once lived there. A 3D model of Low Cross today can be seen here – Low Cross standing stone by Nick Mason Archaeology on Sketchfab

All of this is why standing stones are so exciting to archaeologists – they stand in place today as physical emblems of the prehistoric, when so little else of those people remains. That’s why any examples which are in good condition are likely to be protected as Scheduled Monuments. All of those mentioned in the text here are Scheduled, and as solid as they may seem, sometimes they need some work to look after them. Unstable ground, visitor numbers, even cattle can cause a stone to become threatened. Work was recently carried out to reinstate one of the Newgate Foot stones which had fallen over. This project restored the collection of stones (which might be a small henge monument) closer to what they originally looked like. This is a more complex operation than it sounds, as the ground had to be carefully prepared and excavated to ensure that deposits which might give us valuable dating evidence were not being disturbed.

A similar operation was carried out on Wade’s Stone near Lythe, a monument with giant-related folklore ascribed to it.

If you’d like to see some archaeology and take in a breath of fresh air there are many popular walks around the North York Moors which pass close to prehistoric monuments as they run along the higher ground. As ever, you can always find out more about the fascinating past of the North York Moors using our interactive Historic Environment Record map, so why not find your closest monument and pay a visit. The Monuments for the Future project is always on the look-out for monuments at risk, so don’t hesitate to get in touch if you think a standing stone needs some attention. You can always volunteer with the National Park if you’d like to help with conserving our monuments.