A new leaflet has been published which highlights the historic environments of British National Parks – ‘Our Historic Environment: special landscapes shaped by people‘. The number one purpose of the National Parks is to ‘conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage’ of their areas.
The cultural heritage reference is not just an add on, a poor cousin to nature. As well as shaping the physical landscape cultural heritage is fundamental to providing a sense of place which is just as important in making a National Park special.
Whereas in British National Parks sometimes it’s easy to overlook the influence of people on the natural environment, whereas the historic environment is all about human impact and residue. Here on the ground in the North York Moors it’s not possible to disentangle the natural and historic environments – a 400 year old veteran tree is a natural feature, but it is there because of woodland management in the past; rare Ring Ouzels breed in Rosedale because of the presence of industrial structures left over from the 19th century; the large conifer forests of the North York Moors are there because of a national policy of afforestation after World War 1.
Across the country the most important cultural heritage sites are protected through designation by Historic England, Cadw and Historic Environment Scotland. But there are 1000s and 1000s of other significant sites, structures, finds and features, which National Park Authorities are working to conserve on their patch, alongside the protected sites. By building up research, increasing understanding, and informing interpretation National Park Authorities seek to connect and engage people, both locals and visitors, with their heritage and history.
Since the last Ice Age – the flint tools, hearth deposits, cup and ring marked stones of the subsisting Mesolithic and Neolithic periods; the pottery, earthwork dykes, burial mounds of the ritualistic Bronze and Iron Ages; the forts, settlements, castles of centuries of invasion/assimilation of Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, and then Normans; the abbeys, cruck houses, ridge and furrow of the striving middle ages; the alum works, musket balls and ‘witch posts’ of the religiously provocative Tudor, Stuart and Civil War period; the designed landscapes, water races, stationary engines and railway lines of the industrious 18th and 19th centuries; the radar stations, tank tracks, gas works of the technological 20th century – the North York Moors landscape retains the physical evidence of history (the what and where). Along with documents, maps and other primary sources this provides an historic environment framework, with lots of room left for investigation, imagination and involvement into the how and why.