Emily Collins – Conservation Student Intern
The future of Sil Howe, an abandoned mine site above Beck Hole, has changed quite a bit since I first set foot there in early autumn. It was then that we recognised the iron ochre within the mine as being an ongoing potential threat to the surrounding countryside. In the event of high rainfall, this thick orange blanket, which oozes into the watercourse at the slightest disturbance, could potentially form a terracotta cascade potent enough to wipe out whole communities within the surrounding area…
Residents of nearby Darnholm, Goathland and Beck Hole should have no fear though, for I’m talking about a very different type of community to that which might revolve around the local pub. As explained in an earlier post, this iron sediment can smother invertebrate populations in the surrounding watercourses and reduce the amount of food available for important fish populations in the Esk. Even when leaking into the beck at low levels the iron sediment seems to be having an effect, with initial water samples indicating large changes in pH and a loss of aquatic invertebrates close to the entrance of the mine. Now we’re working on a solution.
Earlier this month my colleagues and I were joined by Natural England, the Environment Agency, the University of Hull and the local Head Gamekeeper on site to discuss plans for the installation of a reed bed at the Sil Howe mine entrance. Whilst trying not to become too distracted by the beautiful views and the numbing feeling in our toes, we discussed how the reeds would slow the flow of the water, allowing enough time for the iron to precipitate out of it before it continues downstream.
Will it be aesthetically pleasing?
Will the bund be large enough to hold the water and where do we get the material from to build it?
Will it have any impact on the neighbouring remains of the historic miners’ hut?
Whilst it meant freezing our appendages off on top of the moor for two hours, resolving these environmental, cultural and local conflicts was vital for strengthening the foundations of the project.
If planning permission is granted the work is due to start around the beginning of February and will last 2-5 days. In the meantime, students at the University of Hull are analysing the invertebrate and water samples we collected from the beck in October and will provide evidence for the detrimental impact that the iron sediment is having on aquatic life in the beck. We will then return to collect more samples once the reed beds have been installed, and again for the following few years to record the changes in water quality over time.
If this works, we could roll out the same kind of thing elsewhere where the historic environment still impacts on the North York Moors today.