Prehistory in primary schools -Teaching resources road-test


The peaty fields around Star Carr, once the shore of a Stone Age lake, where a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer settlement has given remarkable insights into how prehistoric people interacted with their environment 11,000 years ago. 


Prehistory is on the Primary Curriculum these days, which is great news. What’s not so great is that many schools and more importantly teachers are not as well-informed about the Stone Age as they would wish and need help designing engaging programmes of study for their pupils about prehistory. Thankfully the team involved with the Star Carr Archaeology Project at York University have been putting their minds to this and designing some excellent teaching resources for schools to understand the stone age and make the Mesolithic site of Star Carr, near Scarborough relevant to children in the modern age. Please share with teachers this opportunity to get in early and preview the materials they have produced and give some constructive feedback on the resources. The following four paragraphs are reproduced from the facebook page of the Star Carr Project  (which by the way is excellent).

The Star Carr team has been busy producing resources for teachers about the site and the Mesolithic. The classroom activities have been grouped into three sets of units. Individual units can be taken from any set and taught as stand-alone activities. We are looking for teachers who would like to test these resources in the classroom and let us know what they think of them. Please contact Don Henson at

Set 1 – a skills log to develop basic archaeological skills in the
classroom: finding out information, identifying things, recording
objects, analysing how people lived and telling others about Star Carr.

Set 2 – a set of short stories, “11,000 Years Ago”, about the daily
lives of a Mesolithic family: moving home, making things, food, friends and strangers, a hint of winter, coming of age, a new life, the bad old days, boy or girl – animals or plants?

Set 3 – Lessons from the Middle Stone Age, showing how the Mesolithic can teach useful lessons to help us both live better lives today and understand the world we live in: the origins of ourselves, change is inevitable, the living environment, human diversity, healthy eating, what makes us happy.


That little lot sounds to me like a whole term’s worth of material for engaging and inspiring a generation of young scientists to think about our place in the world and what sites like Star Carr can teach us. If you think you know a teacher who would be willing to road test some of  these units in school do encourage them to email Don Henson at the University of York  ( who would be pleased to hear from them.


Filey Flood Alleviation Scheme

The Cleveland Way looking to Filey Copyright John Fielding and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The Cleveland Way looking to Filey Copyright John Fielding and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Geography is one of the great assets of the seaside town of Filey, cradled in a gentle bowl of farmland on the Yorkshire Coast. The town’s Edwardian architecture forms a backdrop to pretty seafront parks and gardens. Steep cobbled ravines descend to a wide sandy beach, sheltered by the rocky promontory of  Filey Brigg. Walkers following the Wolds Way, Centenary Way or the coastal stretch of the Cleveland Way, meet on Carr Naze, the cliff-top area landward of The Brigg  (links to these long distance trails on Filey Town Council website.) Filey’s natural beauty is appreciated by discerning holidaymakers and proud residents alike. 

However geography is also arguably one of Filey’s greatest liabilities. How so? Well that natural dip in the thick blanket of boulder clay, parting gift of the last retreating ice-sheets, acts as a funnel for rainwater falling on the farmland peripheral to the town. When heavy deluges occur (which in these times of greater climatic uncertainty seem to be increasingly likely) the risk of flash flooding by surface water is considerable. Most famously in recent years the July 2007 floods were caused by just such a localized and extremely heavy downpour. So rapid was the accumulation of water that drains could not cope; a hundred homes were flooded, causing distress, danger and damage to many residents of Filey.

Building upon the efforts and collaborative work of the Filey Flood Working Group, set up by Filey Town Council a scheme was proposed and experts commissioned to find a solution to protect the homes from future flood events. After many years of work, consultation and negotiation The Filey Flood Alleviation Scheme is the result, with a multi-million pound price tag. This spring it came a step closer to being realised when a planning application submitted to Scarborough Borough Council was approved unanimously. That hurdle passed, the project team has prepared a Business Case to submit to the Environment Agency for the release of allocated funding of £2.8m together with funding from the Regional Flood Defence Levy. Once the remaining finances have been arranged and the necessary permissions and approvals granted, construction is expected to begin in late 2016 / early 2017.

The scheme design has been influenced heavily by geotechnical investigations (soil testing etc.) and engineering considerations but the basic premise is this: To provide flood protection for the town the rainfall running off the wider farmland must be intercepted by a ditch and a low ridge (or ‘bund’) around the perimeter of the town and directed to purpose-built collecting points or ponds which will release the waters to the sea at a controlled rate via the existing ravines either side of the town.

Insights acquired from the Carrs Wetland Project have been provided to the FFAS steering group, commenting on the environmental enhancement potential of the emerging designs. We hope that the storage areas and landscaping of the earthworks will offer a chance to provide some valuable wildlife habitat as well as intercepting the occasional deluge! Keep up with the latest on the dedicated website / blog for the Filey Flood Alleviation Scheme.



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 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Willow Tit © Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, 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

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 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.