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.

Seeds for the future

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

In a previous blog, on the Year of Green Action, we mentioned the planting of 3,500 trees near Danby by National Park staff and volunteers. Our volunteers form an integral part of the work we are able to do, this is particularly the case with woodland work.

Last year saw the origins of the Acorn Volunteer Group. The task for this Group is to collect tree seed from the ancient woodlands and trees of the North York Moors to then be propagated and grown on at local tree nurseries with the ultimate aim of the trees being used in future woodland creation schemes throughout the area.

We focused in the first year on acorns as the National Park Authority has a bit of a history of acorn collecting and so we already knew some good spots to try. We managed to collect over 25,000 acorns. Going forward we are looking to diversify the tree species we collect to include species such as rowan, elder and wild cherry.

One of the North York Moors' oldest Ancient Oak Trees. Copyright NYMNPA.

So why is collecting tree seeds important?

There are ongoing discussions in the world of woodland and forestry about what is the best approach for new woodland planting – whether it should be young trees grown from seed which has been collected from the local area (‘local provenance’) or trees grown from seed sourced elsewhere in the country e.g. further south.

Local provenance seed has benefits such as being from trees which we know grow well on a kind of site or in a particular area , but seed from a more southerly zone has the potential to be better suited in the future because of an increasingly warming climate.

The predictions for climate change vary in severity based on the potential for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, but what is certain is that our summers will be warmer and drier (this is especially true in the east of the Britain) and our winters will be wetter. This means that the climatic conditions of the places where we are planting trees today to create woodlands could be significantly different in 100 years time. 100 years is not a long time within the lifetime of a woodland. Woodland managers need to consider the effects of their work over these long timescales. Planning now to survive the effects of climate change is essential to give our woodlands the greatest chance of reaching maturity.

Skipster Hagg. When the right site is chosen to plant woodland the rate at which the young saplings grow can be surprising. Copyright NYMNPA.

Ayton Banks. Stitchwort and bluebells growing on a site with newly planted trees. These woodland indicator plants grow on woodland soils and show where woodlands once existed. Copyright NYMNPA.Currently the advice for woodland managers is that the best approach depends on the characteristics of the site proposed. On sites where the woodland soils have remained relatively undisturbed, with intact woodland plant communities – such as bluebells and wood sorrel – planting local provenance trees is still the best choice, particularly if it is adjacent to an existing ancient woodland. However if the site is less sensitive then it makes sense to try and improve the woodland’s chance to withstand the effects of climate change and the resulting pests and disease as much as is possible; making the woodland more ‘resilient’.

This type of resilience is increased by having a higher number of tree species as more diversity means that any one pest or disease is unlikely to have a catastrophic effect on the entire wood. If you also incorporate into this diverse mix of tree species a mix of genetic stock, such as you would get from planting a mixture of trees sourced both locally and from further afield, then this is certain to improve a woodland’s chances of adaptation and survival in the future.

Setting up a seed collecting project is a way to make sure we have some locally sourced trees to plant, including some of the genetics of our oldest living trees. The project is also a great way to include volunteers and give them the opportunity to visit some of the ancient trees and woodlands hidden away in secluded parts of the North York Moors.

One of the many handfuls of acorns that made up the 25,000 that were collected in 2018. Photo credit – Tessa Bunney.

If you think you might like to sign up as an Acorn Volunteer with the National Park Authority then please contact me by email or ring me on 01439 772700.

Looking forward to June

David Mennear – Land of Iron Administration Assistant, and Sam Newton – Sam Newton – Land of Iron Natural Heritage Trainee

Surrounding the remarkable built heritage remains of the Land of Iron is a patchwork of habitats and species that have withstood the industrial exploitation and managed to find a niche in the landscape left behind. The Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme, supported by the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund, is working to maintain these habitats and species. Ancient woodland, upland hay meadows and salmon rivers are being enhanced, and by addressing gaps between good habitat the connectivity through the landscape is improved helping wildlife move more freely.

To celebrate the natural heritage of Rosedale, one of the key areas of the Land of Iron, a free to attend Wildlife Week is happening from Sunday 23 to Sunday 29 June 2019. The Updale Reading Room (YO18 8RQ) in Rosedale will be the main hub but there will be activities taking place across the dale. This family-friendly week will be full of opportunities to learn all about the remarkable animal and plant life right here in the North York Moors.

Rosedale Wildlife Week poster. Copyright NYMNPA.

Join us during our Wildlife Week as we celebrate the natural heritage of Rosedale by encountering a wide array of habitats and species under the guidance of local experts. By identifying and recording what we find during the week you will be helping to further understand, and therefore help protect, the diverse wildlife of this area of past ironstone industry into the future.

The kind of things that are going to be happening include:

  • Aquatic Rosedale – spend the morning visiting some fantastic wildlife ponds and the afternoon identifying aquatic invertebrates;
  • Bats of the Abbey – stay out till midnight to see what happens after dark in Rosedale Abbey village, guided by a local bat expert;
  • Fabulous Flora – learn to recognise wildflowers and grasses in the historic Rosedale Abbey churchyard;
  • Moth Mornings – a great way to discover some of the 2,500 species we have in the UK;
  • Tantalising Talks – from photographing wildlife to goshawks and humpbacks, listen to our experts share their experiences in the wild;
  • Rosedale Abbey Short Nature Walk – a short nature and history-themed walk, accessible to all around Rosedale Abbey village;
  • Wildlife Walks – wildlife-themed walks visiting hidden Hartoft and up-dale Rosedale.

Curlew - image credit: Steve Race.The moorland edge of Rosedale and Hartoft provides great habitat for Curlew. For a chance to view these birds, come along on the Rosedale Wildlife Walk (25 June) or the Hidden Hartoft Wildlife Walk (27 June). Image credit: Steve Race.

Hay Meadow - image credit: NYMNPA.

Rosedale is home to some of the North York Moors’ best remaining species rich grasslands, like this fantastic traditionally managed hay meadow. Come and explore this diverse plant life on the Meadows and Pastures of Rosedale (24 June) Image credit: NYMNPA.

Wood Tiger Moth - image credit: Allan Rodda.

Rosedale’s rich mosaic of habitats will support a wide variety of moths, such as this Wood Tiger. To see what moths we can find, come along on one of the Moth Mornings (23 and 29 June). Image credit: Allan Rodda.

Keep an eye on the Land of Iron website or the National Park’s own What’s On page for programme updates, or else telephone the Land of Iron team on 01439 772700 to find out more. Please note that certain sessions will be unavoidably inaccessible to wheelchair users due to rough and rugged terrain.

To book onto a session please visit our Eventbrite page and reserve your space to avoid disappointment.

If you are travelling into Rosedale from further afield please think about using the local Moorsbus and other public transport – because its good for the environment, and also because Rosedale has narrow roads and limited parking.

Land of Iron logos

 

Happy Birthday

Mark Antcliff – Woodland Officer, and Rachel Pickering – Natural Environment Team Leader

Forestry Commission England owns/manages considerable land holdings within and around the North York Moors and therefore has had and continues to have a major impact on the landscape and the natural and historic environment of the area.

This year the Forestry Commission is marking its centenary. Timber was a crucial resource in the First World War, relying on imports meant vulnerability and risk. Afterwards the amount of land producing timber in Britain was down to 4%, so the 1919 Forestry Act was passed setting up the original Forestry Commission to plant and manage public woodland and to assist private woodland. The Commission was to drive organised afforestation in order to build up a secure timber reserve.

Ever since then the objectives and priorities of the Commission have adapted to changing governmental policy and shifting environmental and social concerns. Its current mission is increasing the value of woodlands to society and the environment, the majority of its current holdings are mixed multi-purpose forests. As of 2018 10% of Britain is woodland cover.

Ingleby Greenhow Forest in summer. Copyright NYMNPA.

Boltby Forest in autumn. Copyright NYMNPA.

In the North York Moors…

Woodlands cover 22% of the North York Moors National Park and Forestry England (previously known as Forest Enterprise and part of the Forestry Commission) manages 60% of these. So understandably we like to work closely together to achieve the best for both organisations. We do loads of great conservation projects together and here are a few:

Ancient Woodland Restoration
Forestry England manage approximately 45% of the National Park’s Ancient Woodland Sites which have been planted with conifers since World War 2 (known as Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites – PAWS). They are committed to restoring these sites back to nature-filled native woodland and we help to ensure that this can happen in a timely fashion through our comments on their individual Forest Design Plans which direct forestry management based on the qualities of the different forests. On difficult sites funding can be given through partnership projects like This Exploited Land of Iron to avoid delays and help facilitate management.

Thinning of conifers in Wass Moors and Pry Rigg Forest. Copyright NYMNPA.

Veteran Trees
Forestry England manages a hugely important area of veteran trees at the Deer Park near Helmsley. The National Park Authority and Natural England work together with volunteers to help monitor and manage these amazing natural ancient monuments which support populations of insects, fungi and bats.

One of the Veteran Trees in the Deer Park. Copyright NYMNPA.

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project
Volunteers survey forest and farmland for these critically endangered birds and this partnership project will raise awareness at both organisations’ Visitor Centres (Dalby and Sutton Bank) as well as providing more flower seeds and water in key locations. The forests in the south east corner are particularly important for these birds.

Beaver Trial
The National Park have given Forestry England £20,000 towards the setting up and monitoring costs of their exciting Beaver Release Trial in Cropton Forest which will be underway shortly. It will be fascinating to see how much impact the beavers can have on the management of water with the forest.

Ancient semi-natural woodland at Howlgate Head. Copyright NYMNPA.

So Happy Birthday to our friends in Forestry England and the Forestry Commission who are celebrating their 100 years. To celebrate the centenary a new artwork was commissioned – the Nissan Hut by Rachel Whiteread is situated within our own Dalby Forest.

Rachel Whiteread's Nissen Hut (2018) copyright Ben Thomas, Forestry Commission. From www.theartnewspaper.com

If you want to find out more about each element of the Forestry Commission, have a look at these links:
Forestry Commission England
Forestry England
Forest Research

Going underground

Rob Smith – Senior Minerals Planner

A key challenge for the developer of the major new Woodsmith Mine, now being built in the National Park, is how to get the polyhalite mineral from the mine itself to a suitable location for further processing and export without causing unacceptable impact on the environment. Solving this problem was a critical step towards the eventual decision to grant planning permission. Although it forms only one element of what is a huge and complex construction project, digging the 23 mile (37km) mineral transport tunnel from the minehead south of Whitby to the processing site at Wilton on Teesside is a massive undertaking in its own right. Work on the tunneling is about to start.

It may not be widely known that there is a patron saint for mining, Saint Barbara.  This reflects the fact that mining has been, and to some extent remains, a risky business and it is perhaps not surprising that a degree of divine support is called upon to help look after those involved at the sharp end. Similarly, it is not unusual for mining machines themselves to be treated with a certain degree of reverence, like you would a ship, in order to help them on their way.  Within that context, Sirius Minerals recently held a naming ceremony and blessing for the first of three huge tunnel boring machines (TBMs) to be used to construct the required tunnel.

A cold, bright, breezy April day at Wilton saw an estimated 200 or so visitors and workers gather in a mass of high viz jackets to watch the ceremony.  Local schools had put forward a short list of names:  Persephone (Queen of the Underworld according to Greek mythology); Gertrude (for Gertrude Bell, the famous explorer with connections to Redcar) and Stella Rose (Stella to reflect the ‘bright star’ link with the Sirius name and Rose from Roseberry Topping, the prominent landmark near the Wilton end of the tunnel). An online poll of around 7,000 votes found in favour of Stella Rose and 8 year old local primary school pupil Warren Walls, along with the Leader of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, unveiled the name on the day.  A short blessing by a local Cannon followed, invoking the assistance of Saint Barbara in achieving a safe and successful outcome.

The front of Stella Rose the TBM. Copyright NYMNPA.

Whilst divine intervention is all well and good, the TBM is clearly also the product of great engineering talent and ingenuity.  Resembling a cross between a freight train and a pre-launch space rocket lying horizontally, it is more capsule than machine – a self-contained burrowing monster weighing 1,800 tonnes and 225 metres in length (that’s two full size football pitches end to end) including on-board canteen and washrooms!

Tunneling through the Redcar mudstone towards the Woodsmith Mine site will start in earnest over the next few weeks and will take two years or so to complete, as part of a giant subterranean relay along with the other two TBMs.

Looking along only part of the length of the TBM. Copyright NYMNPA.

Whilst there will always be differing views about the decision to grant permission for the mine development, the sheer scale and intensity of the construction effort, driven in part by the need to help conserve the environment of the National Park, is impressive to witness.

The Madness and Delight of a North Yorkshire forest at dawn   

Getting up at 3am to start a bird survey at dawn deep in the North Yorkshire countryside may seem like madness to many people but for Ginny the delight has been far greater than the sacrifice…

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project logo

Ginny Leeming, Turtle Dove Volunteer

A few years ago I was walking in Broxa Forest when I became aware of a strange low bubbling, turring sound. For a minute I just couldn’t place it – perhaps a frog? Then it clicked – I hadn’t heard it for years but it had once been so familiar to me. I went home and looked up some facts and figures and was horrified (though not entirely surprised) to learn of the drastic fall in numbers of a bird that was once so well known (and still is widely known by name if only through the 12 Days of Christmas). So when I heard about the Turtle Dove Project I was immediately keen to get involved. OK, so getting up at 3am to be in the forest ready to start a survey at dawn is somewhat daunting, and I even felt a bit nervous at the thought of walking through the forest in semi-darkness. But once up it is a truly magical time to be out there. I’ve had close encounters with badgers, deer, hares and much other wildlife.

On my very first survey I was nearing the end, almost resigned to a negative result, when I approached a clearing and before I could see through the trees I heard that unique sound. It turned out to be 3 singing males. I really had to stop myself shrieking with delight! Since then I’ve had less luck, but the memory of that moment has helped to maintain my feeling of anticipation. It has also been really encouraging to know that the data from that first survey has already been used to target conservation measures on local farms. Perhaps in a few more years encounters with these iconic birds will become more common.
A North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Volunteer in Action. Copyright NYMNPA.
Our North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project surveys start again in May. We will be holding two meetings this spring to explain the surveys and to allow volunteers to meet up. One meeting will be in the Dalby Forest Courtyard Building (YO18 7LT) on 24 April at 7 pm and the second at the Yorkshire Arboretum (YO60 7BY) in the Howardian Hills on 2 May, again at 7 pm. If you’d like to get involved please come along or alternatively email Richard Baines, Turtle Dove Project Officer.

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project partnership logos

 

From strength to strength

Note from Maria (Land of Iron Cultural Heritage Officer) – Through the Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme we’ve organised a number of historic building volunteer events ranging from lime mortar workshops to surveying. One of our volunteers was Dr Ian Wyre who has a PhD from Northumbria University as part of the Virtual Medieval Newcastle project. Ian attended almost every task and demonstrated high potential and a strong background. Because of this he was selected to attend a week’s training event with Historic England and subsequently undertook initial surveying alongside core staff ahead of conservation works. From then Ian has gone from strength to strength and gained a hard sought after position with an archaeological consultancy. So we at the Land of Iron could not be more proud – we wish him well on what will undoubtedly be a successful career ahead.

Ian very kindly agreed to write about his time volunteering and to share his enthusiasm…

Rosedale - Dale Head with railway and water tower - copyright NYMNPA

Dr Ian Wyre – one time North York Moors Volunteer now Historic Buildings Officer with Archaeological Research Services Ltd

Since living in the north east I had always been on the doorstep of the North York Moors, however it was a place you would visit only for day trips and holidays. A Facebook post calling for heritage volunteers for help with This Exploited Land of Iron project has given me a new, lasting connection with the National Park and its unique heritage.

At the time I had found myself long-term un-employed and, as many people find out, this can become isolating and significantly affect your overall wellbeing. I grew up with language and other neurological difficulties which had also come to the fore at this point in my life. At this time, re-starting any sort of career seemed out of reach; there was a lot I thought couldn’t do and any change seemed overwhelming. The Facebook post however, came across as something I could do. It was an invitation to be involved with historic building conservation of the industrial monuments found throughout the ‘Land of Iron’ area, the North York Moors.

Through the support of the project, guided by its Cultural Heritage Officer, Maria, my volunteering offered a varied sets of tasks encompassing a wide scope of heritage skills, arranged around the National Lottery funded Landscape Partnership Scheme project.  It was all built on a practical, hands-on and welcoming basis (something necessary for me at that point!), open to all ages and abilities, set in the stunning National Park.

Joining the project, within months I had learnt to repair with lime mortar through to high tech laser-scanning of historic structures. A highlight for me that summer was the archaeological dig at Goathland Incline. Within the trench I worked in were foundations continuing below almost a metre and a half depth from the surface. The team of enthusiastic and hardworking volunteers and staff had found the substantial remains of stone walls for the engine house, as well the wagon turntable, with which to piece together the previously little known history of the site. The dig took place with visits from many a walker along the old track bed and the sound of steam trains from the nearby North York Moors Railway, aspects which all added to the experience.  Another highlight has been contributing to the Historic Building Recording with Kim, the project’s Cultural Heritage Assistant. Some of this included survey of the enormous ruins for the iron kilns lining the sides of the stunning Rosedale valley. These contrast to the human scale of the workers cottages which help to tell an almost disappeared social story of the area.

For me, primarily, the project has added to the tapestry of the stunning North York Moors landscape. The remnants of the immense and historic ironstone industry scattered amongst the peaceful, green and idyllic landscape feeds the imagination. Seemingly not so long ago, the sky was orange and black from the ever-burning furnaces which roared above the clatter and squeal of railway trucks. The conservation the project has achieved of the archaeological remains will keep this rich industrial history for generations to discover for years to come.  For me, the project also enabled a step to finding work with an archaeology company. I have been a historic buildings project officer for a year now. Even when the work was difficult the hands-on skills the project brought me form the day-to-day basis of my role. This Exploited Land of Iron truly forged links for me and others with the North York Moors National Park and its important heritage.

Land of Iron Goathland Dig 2017 - discussions. Copyright NYMNPA.

If you want to get involved with the Land of Iron or might be interested in any other volunteer opportunities please contact our Volunteer Service.

Land of Iron LPS logo banner

YoGA: taking action

Laura Barr – Marketing and Product Development Executive

2019 has been designated the Year of Green Action.

The Year of Green Action (YoGA) is part of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and is a year-long drive to get more people from all backgrounds to take actions that improve the natural world. We want to encourage and inspire others to do the same.

Everyone can get involved in projects, whether it’s in your own garden, at school, in the workplace or as a consumer. A small change can make a big difference…

Take part in a local litter pick or beach clean, make water, waste and energy-saving improvements, or simply head out into a local green space and appreciate the beauty of the natural world.

Throughout 2019, we will be hosting events and activities across the North York Moors National Park aiming to help people connect, protect and enhance nature.

Some excellent tree planting activity. Copyright NYMNPA.

To kick things off, over the past few weeks National Park staff along with volunteers, youth groups and corporate teams have been planting trees to create a new native woodland near Danby. Incorporating a mixture of oak, silver birch, hazel, rowan, crab apple, wild cherry, hawthorn and blackthorn, the team are on schedule to plant more than 3,500 trees in six weeks.

Some more excellent tree planting activity. Copyright NYMNPA.

There are lots of different opportunities to get involved and take action. Events coming up in and around the North York Moors include:

  • Health and Wellbeing walking festivals including our own WalkFest (25 – 27 May), and the Redcar & Cleveland Walking Festival (15 – 23 June) to celebrate the Cleveland Way’s 50th birthday.
  • The Lost Words (13 June – 29 July) – an exhibition on tour from Compton Verney Art Gallery that reconnects adults and children with the natural world using the power of words and art. A programme of treasure hunts, art workshops, nature expeditions and more are scheduled throughout the summer.
  • Rosedale Wildlife Week (23 – 29 June) – Join the ‘Land of Iron’ project team for a week’s worth of wildlife-themed walks, family activities, talks and workshops in Rosedale from moth-trapping and wildlife walks to natural history lectures and mammal-monitoring.

Help us take positive steps to help our natural environment!

Finding out how to identify tree species. Copyright Daniel Wildey.

You can find out what activities we’ve got going on across the North York Moors here.

You can follow the latest news about YOGA across the UK using #yearofgreenaction

Moor mounds

Ellie Leary – Monuments for the Future Project Officer

Welcome to the latest instalment of our blog celebrating the archaeology of the North York Moors. As the newest member of the Monuments for the Future Team I should probably take this opportunity to introduce myself as a new Project Officer. I started out in professional archaeology 20 years ago, working in a variety of roles, mostly in the field, although the last few years have been spent providing archaeological advice to local authorities. Previously I mainly knew the North York Moors through holidays, but now I can really immerse myself in this beautiful landscape and its wonderful archaeology.

Since moving here I’ve spent every spare moment pouring over OS Explorer maps of the area and planning trips. If you’ve ever done this you might have seen the words ‘tumulus’, ‘tumuli’ or ‘cairn’ frequently dotted across them. Marked in the spidery Gothic script used to mark archaeological remains, a tumulus or cairn refers to a mound (either of earth or stone respectively). Many of those marked will be Bronze Age burial mounds known as round barrows or round cairns. Another way to spot these archaeological features on your map is by names, such as Cock Howe or Three Howes – Howe is an Old Norse word for a mound or barrow.

Round barrows or cairns typically date to the Bronze Age, with the large majority constructed between 4000 to 3500 years ago (2000 – 1500 BCE). They can vary quite widely in size, and come in a few different types, but the most common type you are likely to encounter will have a mound shaped like an inverted bowl, constructed from earth and/or stone which cover single or multiple burials (inhumations or cremations), with the mound sometimes originally surrounded by a circular ditch.

These evocative monuments would have been clearly visible in their day and are found in prominent positions. Such clearly visible features would have acted as commemorative and territorial landmarks, but also had significant social and cosmological meaning. They may also have been way markers, tracing out ancient routeways.

This visibility also means that these monuments have attracted attention through the following millennia, drawing people to them. We can see this in their re-use, for example the medieval and later cross at Ana Cross on Spaunton Moor below.

Ana Cross on round barrow with erosion repair carried out under Monument Management Scheme. Copyright NYMNPA.

Here antiquarian digging in later centuries has left distinctive indentations on the summit and sides, and then there are the modern walkers cairns. Our modern curiosity frequently results in inadvertent erosion, as numerous feet make their way onto the summit along the same route.

Very occasionally we have the opportunity to look inside a round barrow. Excavations in 2011 through the round barrow within Boltby Scar hillfort showed that the mound had been constructed in several phases, one of which included the ring of stone rubble visible below.

Inside Boltby Scar Hillfort round barrow, 2011. Copyright NYMNPA.

Many barrows are mapped and marked as tumuli on the OS Explorer, but this really only scratches the surface of the actual number found within the North York Moors. Round barrows make up a substantial proportion (the majority in fact) of the Scheduled Monuments in the National Park, with a total of 541 of the area’s monuments including at least one round barrow or round cairn (64%of the total). A further 680 unscheduled barrows are recorded within the North York Moors Historic Environment Record. Some of the unscheduled barrows are visible earthworks, but many are only indicated by very slight rises in the ground or as cropmarks spotted in aerial photographs.

Current issues affecting round barrows and cairns include erosion, bracken or scrub growth and walkers cairns. A previous blog post highlighted the issue of walkers cairns and the work we were doing under the Monument Management Scheme (MMS). Now Monuments for the Future  is continuing this work, as well as helping to preserve some of the more eroded or overgrown barrows, and monitoring their ongoing condition.

Cock Howe round barrow on Bilsdale West Moor with erosion repair carried out under Monument Management Scheme. Copyright NYMNPA.

We will also be carrying out research into the survival of below ground remains of round barrows under arable cultivation. Some barrows may have been under the plough for centuries so there may be very little to see on the surface now, but burials and other features may survive – our challenge is to find out what lies under the plough soil and determine the best techniques to record remains and preserve them for the future.

With so many round barrows and cairns across the North York Moors, you are never too far away from one. Look out for mounds on the horizon as you travel across the moorland, or you might come across one at closer quarters. Try finding some of these:

Take two minutes

Alison Goodwin, Moor to Sea Project* Officer

Most of us will have seen the shocking images from David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 programme: oceans full of plastic and beaches filled with detritus. On our UK beaches, the Marine Conversation Society revealed in 2018 that just under 7 tonnes of litter was collected at a handful of beaches over a 3 year period.

Since then there’s been a grassroots-level movement emerge with people keen to do more. Whitby Beach Sweep is one such community organization. Running since February 2018 in association with Surfers against Sewage, they’ve been organising community litter picks along Whitby beaches. Eager to expand their focus to reach wider audiences, they’ve now linked up with the #2minutebeachclean board initiative. By promoting the scheme through social media, and by having a physical board sited on the beach, it’s hoped others will be encouraged to lend a hand.

Close up on a #2minutebeachclean board. Copyright NYMNPA.

These #2minutebeachclean boards are looked after by ‘guardians’ and provide volunteers with all the necessary equipment and instructions. This simple idea run by Beachclean.net has reduced beach litter by 61% in trials. With such good statistics, it’s clear to see why Whitby Beach Sweep thinks it’s a good investment. So we’ve helped support their vision by donating funds towards purchasing more boards.

Beach clean launch - Whitby Beach Sweep and Whitby Surf School. Copyright NYMNPA.

Last week saw the unveiling of the Whitby board outside Whitby Surf School, who’ve kindly volunteered to look after it.  In the next couple of weeks, boards at Staithes and Runswick Bay will also be in situ. Don’t forget to look out for them if you’re out and about – and feel free to share the love and have a go.

*A Coastal Communities Fund funded project 

Coastal Communities Fund logo