Jo Collins – Monuments for the Future Volunteers and Community Officer
Our Monuments for the Future project is focused on protecting and conserving the hundreds of Scheduled Monuments in the North York Moors. We work with volunteers, community groups, organisations and landowners, whose support and collaboration is, as usual, invaluable.
An amazing 169 Scheduled Monuments in the National Park were visited by volunteers and community groups in 2019. This means we can have an accurate record of the condition of the protected archaeology in the National Park and it’s the first step in organising works to conserve and repair monuments where this is needed.
We’re very grateful for the help of several local community groups who have stepped forward to look after their nearby monuments. Appleton le Moors History Group and Thornton le Dale Hub are now looking after the medieval wayside crosses in their villages, the Great Ayton History Society are tackling bracken in the field (see below), whilst several walking groups have volunteered to keep an eye on particular monuments close to Rights of Way. If you are part of a community group and might be interested in helping please do get in touch, we would love to hear from you.
Practical work tasks are sometimes needed to clear damaging vegetation or repair monuments – always with relevant permissions. Recently the Conservation Volunteer Group have helped clear scrub and bash bracken at Fall Rigg prehistoric dyke, Cawthorn Roman camps, and Roulston Scar Iron Age fort to name a few.
Other times we’ve needed just a few volunteers to help with tasks; for example at Cloughton Dyke where a bike jump had been constructed in the prehistoric earthwork. Two of our expert volunteers led the task to very neatly repair the damage. These kinds of practical tasks not only preserve our archaeology but often make monuments easier for people to see and appreciate in the landscape. This can make for a very satisfying end to practical task days!
Scheduled Monuments are at risk from many things, not least the growth of bracken, gorse and young trees as well as natural and human erosion. Volunteer and community help has helped ‘rescue’ three monuments in 2019, they have been taken off Historic England’s Heritage At Risk Register.
The 18th century Ayton Banks Alum Works near Great Ayton (List Entry 1020347) has been taken off the Heritage at Risk Register. At this site during the 1760s and 1770s alum was extracted from shale rock in a process involving burning, leaching, boiling, and crystallising. Alum was used to treat leather, fix dyes in fabric, and also had medicinal value including as a treatment for nits. Today the earthwork remains of the clamps, reservoirs and stone lined cisterns are best viewed safely from the path above. However the vigorous bracken growth in the summer completely obscures the historic features and is very likely disturbing the below ground archaeology too. Great Ayton History Society are working with National Park volunteers to tackle the bracken; the Young Ranger Group and Conservation Volunteer Group did sterling work this summer and have offered to do so again in 2020, thank you all!
A round barrow at Codhill Heights on Gisborough Moor has been ‘rescued’ and is now off the Heritage at Risk Register (List Entry 1016574). A modern walkers’ cairn located on top of the Bronze Age burial mound was encouraging visitors to inadvertently damage the archaeology. Two intrepid volunteers visited the hill top burial mound twice a year for several years to check on the damage. The walkers’ cairn was removed by a team of volunteers and apprentices on a wintry day two years ago, and in 2018 and 2019 volunteers scattered moorland grass seed on the bare ground exposed by removing the stones – the resulting grass will help protect against natural erosion. A previous blog has more information about the interesting work and new find at this site.
Cock Howe is a bronze age round barrow on the western edge of Bilsdale (List Entry 1015761). Footpath erosion was damaging the monument and this has now been repaired by contractors; volunteer surveyors monitored the progression of the erosion before the work took place, and a recent volunteer visit has shown the monument to be in good shape. This work means that the burial mound is no longer deemed to be ‘At Risk’.
Its not all good news, in 2019 another eight North York Moors monuments were added to the Heritage At Risk Register. One of these is Cockan Cross (List Entry 1011747) on Farndale Moor. During a condition survey our volunteer surveyor found that the shaft of the cross has now split into two pieces. We think this was caused by natural erosion and hope to make a high quality record of the cross shaft using photogrammetry (3D scanning) to help with its future conservation.
We’re not downhearted. Watch this space for an update on progress with more of these At Risk monuments in months to come.
All the volunteers for the Monuments for the Future project do a huge amount of work – I haven’t been able to mention it all here. Your help is very much appreciated and we’d like to say a huge THANK YOU to the volunteers and community groups who are helping safeguard the protected heritage of the North York Moors.