Curlews and Crows at Cut Bridge

Old pasture adjacent to Sherburn Cut on the Sherburn -Brompton Road is attractive to ground-nesting waders, including Curlew and Lapwing.

Old pasture adjacent to Sherburn Cut on the Sherburn -Brompton Road is attractive to ground-nesting waders, including Curlew and Lapwing.

I paid a brief stop this morning at Sherburn Cut Bridge, north of Sherburn level crossing (where the old signal box is intriguingly signed ‘Weaverthorpe’, but that’s another story). I was checking for Curlew on a regular territory on The Carrs. There is space to pull off the road by the bridge so this is an easy vantage point from which to monitor ‘en passant’.

Sure enough, a quick scan with binoculars revealed first a Brown Hare then a pair of Curlew at the far end of the field. One was sitting, presumably on eggs, the other bird feeding in another part of the pasture. Seven Lapwing were spread across the field too, up to four sitting on nests. Another pair of Lapwing were mobbing a Carrion crow NE of the bridge, over a carrot field. Let’s wish the plovers and the Curlews good fortune as the beady crows were looking on from an oak tree at the edge of the meadow. The presence of corvids is a concern, as they could well take unguarded eggs or young if the opportunity presents itself.

This site is traditionally used for a hay crop which the Curlews evidently favour as I’ve seen them use the field for a number of years. Whether they have success in rearing young here is another matter. Hopefully by the time any young are hatched, the sward will afford a little more in the way of hiding places for camouflaged wader chicks.

 

The distinctive hump-backed bridge over Sherburn Cut, like many bridges and landsmarks along the watercourses is a favoured spraint site for Otters.

The distinctive hump-backed bridge over Sherburn Cut, like many bridges and landmarks along the watercourses is a favoured spraint site for Otters.

Meanwhile Sherburn Cut Bridge, in common with many on The Carrs is a regular spraint site for Otters. They leave their territorial droppings on the ledge beneath the arch. With binoculars a good dozen were visible on the far side alone. It’s a sign of a resident population of Otters but encountering one is a rare incident. I think in eight and a half years of visiting waterways and farms in the Vale of Pickering I’ve managed to spot one once only, when crossing Folkton Bridge.

Have you seen Willow Tits?

Willow tits have been found in recent years on some farm holdings straddling the boundary of Ryedale / Scarborough local authority areas, amidst HLS wetland schemes under the Carrs Wetland Project banner. Parts of the Derwent riparian corridor support occasional breeding pairs and some isolated farm woodlands which are quite wet and scrubby. This species featured on the old Ryedale BAP (and Wet Woodland, a classic setting for nesting Willow Tits, was a named habitat for Ryedale too).
The bird excavates nest holes typically in rotten trees or stumps such as willow, alder and birch. It is known from research on the species’ habitat preferences that as scrub matures and larger-trunked trees establish, they become attractive to a key predator of Willow Tits – the Great Spotted Woodpecker. Thus keeping a suitable site free of mature trees could help.

Willow Tit © Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Willow Tit © Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In places HLS woodland management options were agreed on Carrs Wetland farms, mindful that Willow Tits might benefit in the longer term by maintaining suitable nesting habitat. Some areas were thus earmarked for rotational coppicing to keep a younger age structure to the scrubby wet woodland. On Willerby Carr even some woodshaving-filled nestboxes were put in place in the hope that they could be used by Willow Tits.

Do you know of any good Willow Tit sites in the Ryedale or Scarborough patch? (or sites where they used to be?) Following a discussion with Chris Bradshaw, a local ornithologist and member of Scarborough Birders group, we wondered whether an attempt to track down breeding Willow Tits would be a good idea this year, to assess local populations. In many parts of the UK this species is in serious decline, hanging on in parts of its range. Given that it is present in the Scarborough area and Ryedale too it would be valuable to hear of recent records. We should take care to not to give precise locations in the public domain, however, considering the scarcity and sensitivity of this species. Many sites will be on private land anyway, but if you have helpful ‘intelligence’ on their whereabouts, such as recent sightings in the last 5 years or sites that you know used to have them but may no longer, then please contact Tim on tim.burkinshaw@scarborough.gov.uk

Winter morning on The Carrs

This is why I love The Carrs so much. Morning mist, a sleepy flock of Teal plinking away in the distance on the Hertford Cut, hoar frost on the ground and chacking Fieldfares on the fields down the lane to Flixton Bridge. Several thousand molehills down there too. They love the soft, deep peaty soil of The Carrs. This is neutral fen peat, not the acid blanket bog of the uplands.

Frosty dawn over Flixton Carr, 22/01/16

Frosty dawn over Flixton Carr, 22/01/16

It is a while since I last went down to Flixton Bridge. The lane was bumpy as ever, indicative of the slumping land surface of the peat. The Hertford was quite full but flowing freely. I checked out the fields containing Flixton Island (site of digs in 2014) and No Name Hill, the prehistoric islands in what was then Mesolithic Lake Flixton. A flock of Lapwing rose from wet pasture to the east and flapped in a slow circuit over my head. I tried repeatedly to count them but the shifting shape and direction of the flock presented a challenge. I estimated about 90 plovers in total. Come the spring Lapwing disperse to the breeding grounds on the Moors , the Wolds and across the patchwork of arable and pastoral land in The Vale of Pickering. Their fortunes are not looking too rosy at the moment, (see Hoping for a Lapwing Spring where I discussed this topic before on this blog.)

 

Star Carr hits Social Media

The setting of Star Carr near Seamer, Scarborough in the Vale of Pickering, taken from Flixton Brow, Feb 2016

The setting of Star Carr near Seamer, Scarborough in the Vale of Pickering, taken from Flixton Brow, Feb 2016

It was with trembling excitement over the past week that learned of a new and very welcome milestone in the Star Carr archaeology project. In fact two milestones. The first, last Thursday afternoon when a colleague informed me that Star Carr was on Facebook. (Type in to the search box MesolithicStarCarr.) The second came after the weekend when a twitter account for the project was revealed. At this news my pulse was actually racing.

Now I’ve long suspected that the StarCarr.com site was under-visited not to mention clunky and infrequently updated. (Here I have to be careful as I am responsible myself for long hiatuses in blog posts and upgrades to this site.) I have also felt that whenever there was some momentous research announcement or an event to publicise I struggled with the absence of any official social media presence for Star Carr, feeling barely satisfied to stick a hashtag in front of #StarCarr in the hope of reaching the enormous audience out there with an appetite for knowledge about this remarkable Mesolithic landscape.
Anyway, I need fret no more that @CarrsWetland and this wordpress blog is a poor stand-in evangelist for the archaeological phenomenon that is Star Carr. Enjoy, Like, Follow, Share away. I’m looking forward to doing lots of that in the coming weeks and months as the University of York spread the message about the Prehistoric site near Scarborough, its unique setting in North Yorkshire’s Vale of Pickering and the astonishing window it offers on Stone Age life in North-West Europe.

Carrs Wetland practical resources

Regular visitors to the Carrs Wetland website may notice a new menu tab called Resources. The purpose of this is to put in one handy place the acquired wisdom of the Carrs Wetland Project on practical methods for wetland restoration schemes. It is particularly for farmers, land managers or conservation advisers, (yes, even Natural England Land Management and Conservation Advisers) but any interested people will find some gems to use and share. Some of the downloads were previously available on the site, but harder to locate, (for example under FarmingInformation for Farmers).

The idea is for you to use / download / print / share them.  For starters don’t miss our popular case study notes of wader scrapes and farm sluices, summarizing the lessons and insight gleaned from the early years of the Carrs Wetland Project. We have had kind comments that the ‘scrapes hints and tips’ offers a more comprehensive explanation of the ‘how to do it’ than any Technical Advice Notes currently available from Natural England etc.

Wader scrape excavated in spring 2011 on Willerby Carr

Wader scrape excavated in spring 2011 on Willerby Carr

“I should explain that I digested and assimilated all the Scrapes guidance I could lay hands on at the time, from RSPB, Natural England, Buglife, Freshwater Habitats Trust etc,” admits Project Officer Tim Burkinshaw, “but the hints and tips started life as a guidance note for groundwork contractors who’ve not dug wader scrapes before.” Digger drivers can be too good when you want wader scrapes excavating, explains Tim:

“One was so skilled with a 13-tonne ‘360’ and 5ft bucket that he wanted to make smooth manicured, graded ponds, rather than the irregular, chunky finish that I wanted on the wet grassland fields. It looked like we were going to go way over time and budget on one job, so we had to press home the message that rough and lumpy was the way to go!”

Incidentally there’s a useful note on working with drainage and plant operators below too (including guidance on pros and cons of fixed price work and paying by the day or hour). I’d also recommend the online resources collectively called the Pond Creation Toolkit by Freshwater Habitats Trust (formerly Pond Conservation), which have much more on this topic, relevant to planning designing and implementing wetland scrape creation, which after all are temporary ponds.

If you haven’t done so already, please take a look at the Resources page now to see what’s there already. This will be added to this over time so keep checking back or follow our Facebook page or Twitter account for notifications of new stuff in Resources or elsewhere on the website.

Star Carr exhibits to go on show in Scarborough

Rotunda Museum, Scarborough

Rotunda Museum, Scarborough

A new display case featuring material about the Mesolithic site of Star Carr is due to go on public display in February 2016 at Scarborough’s famous Rotunda Museum. The artefacts will be all existing material from the Scarborough Collections which have been out of the public gaze in the storerooms in recent years. They will give a glimpse into the life of hunter gatherer humans in the Vale of Pickering. The Rotunda, designed by ‘Father of English Geology’ William Smith is looked after by Scarborough Museums Trust. The welcome return of a public Star Carr display at The Rotunda will enable some of the remarkably preserved 10 000 year old animal bone and plant remains from Star Carr to be inspected by the public at large. We look forward to the opening of the new exhibit.

Recent material, including that from the last digs at Star Carr in Summer 2015 is being conserved and analysed in York, where there is access to specialist facilities and techniques demanded by the much more degraded and fragile recent finds.

Full of fascinating objects, the Rotunda Museum is home to Gristhorpe Man, a unique Bronze Age skeleton found near Scarborough buried in a tree trunk, the best example of a tree burial in the UK. There is also the Speeton Plesiosaur, a fantastic marine reptile from the Cretaceous period, found near Filey. The most important prehistoric artefacts are the bone and vegetable items from the Star Carr and Flixton Carr sites. Scarborough has one of the 21 red deer frontlets excavated at Star Carr in the 1950s by John Clarke which have been dated to c.8000 BC.

 

The last ever digs at Star Carr?

Star Carr excavations in, June 2014

Last year’s Star Carr excavations, in June 2014.

Summer 2015 saw a final  excavations season at the Mesolithic site of Star Carr near Seamer, Scarborough as the University of York’s five year long Postglacial research project, funded by the European Research Council, draws to a close. Being located on private farmland with no public access, it can be easy to understand why so many people living nearby are still in the dark about this Stone Age site. Many thousands of people must have unwittingly passed by on the A64 trunk road into Scarborough, just a kilometer or so from Star Carr.

Mind you, even if one did get close to the site there is not much to see to the untrained eye but a typical Yorkshire field…..that is unless you were there when archaeological investigators were at work. Even then,the digs were only transient windows into the past – the excavations being filled in after each season to protect the material from the elements. It’s now a Yorkshire field again.

Luckily for us the Star Carr team and various students made some short films in their final few digging seasons about the excavations,  the artefacts found there and their significance, about the story of the site’s discovery over 60 years ago and about the experiences of some of the students, researchers and volunteers who have worked on the digs.
Some videos you might want to check out are below. These are the ones that area easily located on YouTube but if you find any good ones not listed do contact us and we’ll add them.

Skulls, Shamans and Sacrifice in Stone Age Britain Published on 13 Jul 2015

The Mesolithic settlement of Star Carr in North Yorkshire has fascinated archaeologists for decades. Nicky Milner and her digging team from York University are embarking on their final ever excavation on site to unlock the secrets of this mysterious landscape. They’ve been filming every moment of discovery to give us a glimpse into our ancient past.

A Mystery of Star Carr Published on 23 May 2013

A film made in support of the Yorkshire Museum’s exhibition “After the Ice”, which opens on 24th May 2013. The film is about the pre-historic antler frontlets excavated in 1951 at Star Carr, Yorkshire. Made by Adam Clark, Olivia Morrill, and Susan De Val. To keep updated with our progress, check out our blog!

A 3-minute film on the history of the archaeological site of Star Carr. This film was created by Emma Carr, Jenna Tinning, and Kelly Guerrieri for the Yorkshire Museum’s exhibition ‘After the Ice’. Check out the blogs where we update you on all our progress at: http://yorkstudentheritage.blogspot.co.uk

The People of Star Carr Published on 23 May 2014  

A 3 minute film produced by Katrina Gargett and Lexi Baker, two BA Heritage Studies students at the University of York. It has been made for display at The Yorkshire Museum and features the archaeologists who previously worked at the Mesolithic site of Star Carr, North Yorkshire.

When Star Carr made international headlines in 2010 for the discovery of evidence of Briatain’s oldest ‘house’ the news was shared all over the world… Archaeologists Uncover Britains Oldest House Uploaded on 13 Aug 2010  Archaeologists say they have discovered Britain’s oldest house at a Stone Age site in northern England. Researchers say the house dates back 10,500 years.

In Focus: Star Carr   Uploaded on 18 Aug 2011 (Archaeosoup Productions)

Welcome to In Focus. In this series we take a closer look at particular sites, finds and objects from the world of Archaeology.

The www.starcarr.com website also has some videos of excavations in recent years which you can look at here. One in particular, The Other Side of the Antler filmed in 2006 at the beginning of the modern phase of investigations by the Vale of Pickering Research Trust gives a detailed look at the digs that year. Did you know how important Star Carr is to archaeologists? It has been said that Star Carr is as important for the Mesolithic period as Stonehenge is to the Neolithic.  Scarborough Borough Council owns a field close by to the scheduled Star Carr site which has some similar topographic features and has also been the site of digs and test pits over the years. It is still hoped that a way can be found to promote public access to the vicinity of Star Carr.