The Carrs revisited – reflections on peat, drainage and farming economics

A public footpath crosses the Scarborough-Filey railway line to reach the Scarborough Carrs.

Being several square miles of pretty uninhabited open farmland, there are not many planning applications that I have to check out in The Scarborough Carrs. It’s a lowland peat floodplain after all. No-one has ever built houses on there unless you want to stretch the definition and include Star Carr, the famous Mesolithic settlement and that was 12,000 years ago.

Since my day job nowadays involves keeping an ecological eye on development control (the technical term for the planning permission process) I don’t often have cause to visit The Carrs. In short, it’s been a long while since I set foot there and to be honest I was missing it.

Some of the undeveloped business park plots I passed en route have formed their own little wetland areas!

In early summer an opportunity arose through another site visit in Eastfield to make an excursion on foot across a corner of the area, re-visiting my old stomping ground as a Wetland Project Officer.

Wet ditches which criss-cross The Carrs form the boundaries between fields.

I was a little apprehensive how overgrown the paths and farm tracks could be. Fortunately fate shined on me as did the sun and I managed to make an interesting transect. I left ‘civilisation’ via the Scarborough Business Park, passing the vacant industrial estate plots as I went southwards to reach Cayton Carr. Cayton Carr and then west back to the A64 via Seamer Carr.

This post shares with you some of the photos I took and observations I made along the way.

Cattle pasture and big skies…

There were some lovely rural scenes passing through cattle pastures before crossing the Scarborough to Filey railway line. I was able to pick up a farm track which thanks to some stone spread along it recently to firm it up, was passable without too much impediment from the waist-high growth that grows rampant on the damp peat verges either side and down the centre.

Wildlife was abundant with dragonflies and finches feeding on the weeds. There were numerous ditches of flowing water and some waterweeds to see in the bottom.

Some interesting water weeds can be found in the clear-flowing ditches. Occasionally a ditch still follows the course of an historic watercourse. These often have the best diversity of aquatic plants.

Renewed drainage pipes were evident spilling water into a ditch like so many bath-taps left running.

This is normal in the course of farming this land, but saddens me to know that if the water table was retained higher the peat would shrink less, give off less CO2 to the atmosphere and potentially create rare wet grassland or fen habitats for wildlife with the right management.

Some fields are still cropped. Here one of dozens of new ‘underdrainage’ pipes pours water out of the peaty soil. As the soil oxidises and shrinks, these drainage pipes have to be replaced every few decades and placed successively deeper.

Unfortunately, until farmers get paid more for protecting their fen peat soils than they can get from growing wheat or potatoes or fodder crops this will continue. I’m drumming my fingers waiting for the new Environmental Land Management Scheme from DEFRA to come up with the goods, but until then the taps are still running full bore on our farmed lowland peat.

Here, near Star Carr, one can see a recently cleaned ditch shows the pale marl layer beneath the dark peat. This marl sediment formed bed of Palaeolake Flixton.
A closer inspection of the fen peat over the thin lake marl and the yellow, stony glacial gravel and clay beneath. Lake Flixton was a post glacial lake here.

The unassuming bus stop on the A64, named ‘Starr Carr Lane’ on the Coastliner bus route. This marked the end of my walk. The main lay-by is just 100m further south.

2 thoughts on “The Carrs revisited – reflections on peat, drainage and farming economics

  1. wendycatpratt

    Hi, I really enjoyed your post, I live in the area and drive around the carrs everyday. I would love to know the route that you took on this walk, are you able to share it?


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