Jo Collins – Monument Management Scheme Volunteer Coordinator
There are 840 Scheduled Monuments in the National Park; they include the remains of prehistoric settlements and burial mounds, medieval monastic sites, alum and iron ore workings, and World War II radar and decoy sites.
Three years ago 15% of these monuments were classified as ‘at Risk’ by English Heritage (now Historic England). Through the work of our Monument Management Scheme (MMS) this has been reduced to 8%. This is due in no small part to the work of the Historic Environment Volunteers, who help us keep an eye on the large number of monuments in the park.
During the previous two years 43 volunteers have visited and surveyed 391 monuments; an considerable achievement, THANK YOU!
Historic Environment Volunteers visit a Scheduled Monument, fill out a short report and take a photo for the record. Part of my job is arranging permission to access the monuments beforehand and making sure the volunteers have the right information and maps so they know where they’re going. The monuments can be a short walk from the car, or high on exposed moorland with a long walk in, or across private farmland; all are accessed with the kind permission of the land owner. The volunteer’s reports and photos have highlighted some monuments that are in better condition than expected (🙂 ) and some monuments that are in worse condition than expected (😦 ). As a result eight have been completely removed from the ‘at risk’ register with a further eleven now classed as ‘low risk’. Bracken growth is the main reason for a worsening condition and we have been able to tackle this through the MMS.
A small sub group of volunteers have also been involved in surveying badger activity on 17 round barrows and dikes in the National Park – round barrows are burial sites dating from the Bronze Age and Dikes are linear earthworks which were built during the Bronze and Iron Ages, probably to indicate territory boundaries. These ancient monuments have since been exploited by people and nature, with badgers being some of the most recent explorers. Volunteers have so far found paw prints, ‘snuffle holes’, bedding airing, fur, tracks, and setts. The monuments are visited about four times a year by a dedicated volunteer. It’s early days for this project but so far so good; apart from the obvious damage caused by the existing setts there appears to be relatively little new digging and no exposed archaeology.
In addition a small group of volunteers help directly with practical management on
monuments; the majority of tasks involve cutting back growing vegetation which causes damage to archaeological remains. This is a new group and we are hoping more people will be up for joining in the future. Two such volunteer tasks on Danby Rigg have contributed to a much bigger project to improve the condition of this prehistoric cairnfield – cairnfields are field systems dating from the Bronze Age; stones were moved and piled into cairns to make space for fields but the remains of burials and settlements are often found there too. The problems here were being caused by erosion by people and the flowing water running over site which had damaged and even destroyed some of the cairns. The project to improve the drainage and repair the bridleway was developed with our Northern Area Ranger, Naomi Green, and different National Park volunteer groups were roped in to add heather bales into small drainage ditches to slow the flow, infill some of the deep ruts and scours and then to spread heather brash over the bare areas. The vegetation will take some time to recover but the area should look as it used to in a short while and the archaeology will be defended from further damage.
Mags, the Monument Management Scheme Officer, and myself were recently asked to share our experience with our neighbouring designated landscape, the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and to help with training their new group of volunteers. The Howardian Hills AONB is currently setting up their own Monument Management Scheme for their area and wanted to find out how we have been using volunteers. We started with a classroom session at Coxwold Village Hall and spent the afternoon visiting 4 round barrow sites to practice their volunteers’ new survey skills. We’d like to wish the AONB the best of luck with their MMS (although I’m sure they won’t need it!).
And so what’s the future? There are still those 8% of monuments ‘at risk’ and with the help of our volunteers we’re hoping to care for them to conserve our heritage for future generations. Without the help of volunteers it would simply not be possible to achieve everything the scheme has been able to. So here’s to our volunteer guardians of the prehistoric park! And if you would like to join us please do get in touch.
Monument Management Scheme (MMS) – Scheduled Monuments are assessed as being ‘Low Risk/Not at Risk’, ‘Vulnerable’, or ‘At Risk’ for a variety of reasons. Historic England (previously English Heritage) publishes an annual Heritage at Risk register to highlight the ‘At Risk’ monuments. The MMS is a joint funded project between Historic England and the North York Moors National Park Authority with the aim of reviewing and tackling the condition of these monuments at risk within the North York Moors. Historic England have recently agreed funding for a third phase of the scheme which will run until March 2018. The new programme will continue to work to improve the condition of Scheduled Monuments and remove them from the Heritage at Risk register and it will be looking for ways to keep them in good condition and well managed into the future – hopefully for the long term.