Tag Archives: Vale of Pickering

Illuminating Star Carr

I happened upon a fantastic article on Star Carr from the magazine ‘Current Archaeology’. This was a chance online discovery but I was glad to find it. The piece is a marvellous synthesis of all that we currently know about the Mesolithic site of Star Carr near Scarborough.

A rainbow over Star Carr, once the haunt of a stone-age community living on a lake shore.

The piece, entitled ‘Life beside the lake – Opening a window on the Mesolithic at Star Carr’, is based on a research monograph published by the Star Carr team. The article is fascinating and wonderful to read, albeit a long read, but worth it.

I’ve been privileged to meet some of the archaeologists who have unravelled these insights and to have watched them at work on the digs on the farmland that was Lake Flixton, around 11,000yrs ago. Star Carr will forever have a special place in my heart.

Overlooking the remains of the ‘central platform’, under excavation in 2013
Overlooking the remains of the ‘central platform’, under excavation in 2013. This was the earliest and the largest of three platforms, each made from massive timbers and whole trees, that were built at Star Carr over a 175-year period. [Image: Star Carr project, CC BY-NC 4.0]

I urge you to set aside half an hour to read the full piece – or at least look at the images. It is a great article for those of us for whom a full two-volume academic monograph is too weighty to digest.

To whet your appetite I’ve taken the liberty of choosing some juicy extracts. Enjoy:

Herein lies the paradox of Star Carr: it is at once an invaluable source of evidence about Mesolithic living, opening a vivid window onto a world that is not well represented in British archaeology, and an enigmatic anomaly.

The discovery of possible houses is exciting not only because of their rarity, but because they provide a welcome reminder of the importance of wood to Mesolithic communities. This material rarely survives on Mesolithic sites, but the presence of structures and the great timber platforms highlight how skilled Star Carr’s occupants were at using it.

Another deceptively mundane material from the site that sheds interesting light on Mesolithic life is the humble bracket fungus. This species is also known as ‘tinder fungus’ because of its usefulness for starting fires…… Star Carr can now boast the largest-known assemblage of charred fungus from Mesolithic Britain.

…one of the most unusual items from Star Carr is a small shale pendant etched with a series of parallel lines and smaller markings drawn at right angles…experimental archaeology suggests that when freshly cut they would have been vibrantly white against the darker background, and similar artefacts are known from southern Scandinavia. Possible interpretations of the markings are numerous…

Hilts, Carly, 2019, Life beside the lake, Current Archaeology 349

I hope you find the article as enlightening as I did. This site has in many ways been an enigma since its disovery in the forties, re-interpreted many times and the academic debate will surely continue. I doubt that Star Carr has given up all of its secrets yet, but it has offered a remarkable picture of life by a wetland 11,000 years ago.

Further reading
Nicky Milner, Chantal Conneller, and Barry Taylor (eds), Star Carr: Vol.1 – A Persistent Place in a Changing World and Vol.2 – Studies in Technology, Subsistence and Environment, White rose University Press, ISBN 978-1912482009.

e-versions of both volumes can be downloaded for free:

https://universitypress.whiterose.ac.uk/ site/books/10.22599/book1/ 

https:// universitypress.whiterose.ac.uk/site/ books/10.22599/book2/ 

For more on the Star Carr archaeology project, see www.starcarr.com.

The link to the Current Archaeology article https://archaeology.co.uk/articles/features/life-beside-the-lake.htm

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A Bounty on the Brow

Jan14 011

Some mornings on the way over the Yorkshire Wolds to Scarborough I like to take in the back roads. One such route crosses East Heslerton Wold to arrive at the top of Sherburn Brow, where it encounters the Wolds Way long distance trail, which follows the road downhill towards Sherburn before regaining the crest of the brow. Now this un-sung viewpoint offers a cracking view across the Vale of Pickering any day of the year*, but the added bonus on this occasion was a mixed flock of finches alighting in a skeletal hedgerow.  The birds were enjoying the bounty of a stewardship crop planted as a winter food source for farmland birds. These wild bird mixtures can be a vital crutch to the survival of some of our smaller seed-eating birds in the winter countryside and I stopped briefly to appreciate the crop and the flighty flock of winged seed-seekers.

A wild bird seed crop (sometimes called WBS mix by those in the know) is a tailored mix of arable crop plants left unharvested over one or two winters. Typically they include a mix of starchy cereals and oil-rich brassicas. Wheat, barley or triticale, a forbear of modern wheat, could provide the cereal element for instance. Providing seeds with high lipid content could be oil-seed rape, fodder radish or kale. Such brassicas left to seed will provide seed pods for a couple of seasons and the sought after seeds will be held tightly by the plant until a prying beak makes good its entry. Other seed bearing crops like millet are sometimes are included in the mix to increase the variety. The whole lot grows together and additionally provides cover and shelter for game birds in the barren months of winter and spring.

stewardship

Wild Bird Seed crop on Sherburn Brow

One of the advantages of a sacrificial crop like this is that the seeds remain attached to upright stalks, safe from the rot and mould they would quickly succumb to if scattered on the ground. It can produce quite a wildlife spectacle if carefully located, by a thick hedge or a woodland for safety and warmth. This particular location, on my visit, had attracted 40 or more Bramblings, among dozens of Goldfinches and Chaffinches, with a few Greenfinch, Linnet and Bullfinch for good measure. While we enjoy our garden bird visitors attracted to seed feeders and bird tables it is worth thinking about the feast we might have in the countryside if a few more hectares of wild bird seed mix were sown on every farm. To recover their dwindling populations our farmland birds need not only to survive through the winters but emerge fit enough to breed the following spring. It made my week to see Bramblings and Linnets in double figures. Will future generations enjoy such treats I wonder?

* Footnote: The spot I refer to is one of my favourite routes to descend into the Vale of Pickering. While a sunny morning view is a joy, there is a phenomenon I long to capture on camera: that magical meteorological situation when a thermal inversion holds a thick grey fog pooled in the Vale while the Moors and the Wolds are bathed in golden sunshine. One can almost imagine Lake Pickering once more filling the Vale.

The Higher Carr

sunrise landfill

Daybreak over Seamer Carr

While Scarborough’s ‘carr’ land is mostly flat, expansive and low-lying, occupying that wedge of little-explored terrain between the Yorkshire Wolds and the rising ground towards The North York Moors, there is one notably elevated ‘carr’ which stands out from the Vale of Pickering, above other carrs, in a very literal sense. Were it open to public access, one would break quite a sweat to get to the top. That place, the Higher Carr I refer to, with topographic elevation to set the pulse racing, is Seamer Carr.

Jul09 reseeded landfill

Southern part of Seamer Carr in 2009 after re-seeding

Seamer Carr was not always a hill though. It too was once low and gently undulating like its neighbouring floodplain. Indeed it has yielded its fair share of Mesolithic secrets in its time, being close to the reknowned stone age site of Star Carr and part of the associated landscape of Palaeolake Flixton – marked today by the seam of dark peaty soils between Flixton and Cayton.

Seamer Carr today is a landfill site which served Scarborough and district for some decades, under the management of Yorwaste Ltd. It presents itself as a prominent hill occupying a triangular patch of land to the south of the Scarborough Business Park and visible on your right approaching the town on the A64 trunk road. The landfill site at Seamer Carr was recently closed to general waste  but the resource recovery centre remains in operation, recycling and reclaiming value from modern waste streams arriving by wagon or via the household waste site skips. Activity on this artificial hill today is focussed on shaping the land contours into their final geometry and capping the site with inert material.

One day, in the not-too-distant future, we hope it may be possible to gain public access onto this man-made-mount. When landscaping works are finished and the site is safely capped in a green blanket of living habitat once more it will be safe to open up some public access routes on the site. I count myself among the priviledged few who have been escorted to the top, clad head to toe in safety gear to admire the potential of this vista across the vale. It offers a rare vantage from the north side of the Hertford floodplain, directly adjacent to Star Carr. For the time being though, we must wait and anticipate and even, perhaps, salivate at the thought of the delicious panoramas that could reward future visitors to this man-made mound – a testament to the mark of human settlement on this landscape which first began around twelve thousand years ago…

litter issues

Seamer Carr landfill in July 2009

Covering part of the site with protective membrane, 2009

Covering part of the site with protective membrane

May 2013 Seamer Carr HLF visit

HLF visit to Seamer Carr, May 2013

excavators, dusty diggers

Landscaping on Seamer Carr,  May 2013

Reporting from Star Carr, a Peek in the Peat…

It was a windy day in the Vale of Pickering when archaeologists Michael Bamforth and Becky Knight from the University of York and Ian Panter from the York Archaeological Trust were interviewed by Sue Nelson for BBC Radio 4 . The team walked along the River Hertford to view the field that harbours the Palaeo Lake Flixton under its turf, and visualise what the site would have looked back in the Stone Age.

Image

Archaeology has become an interdisciplinary field of research which has benefited greatly in recent decades by utilising scientific methods such as chemical isotope analyses and radiocarbon dating. This short interview was conducted in the field and followed up in the chemistry labs at York. It focuses on  the interaction of science and archaeology, and the impact of Star Carr in terms of Mesolithic discoveries.

The 8-minute interview is destined for broadcast on Radio 4’s Inside Science programme, so tune in to hear more about the challenges facing Star Carr’s buried artefacts.

by Fevziye Hasan

Managing ditches for farming and conservation

Reed-fringed ditch near Seamer Carr

Reed-fringed ditch near Seamer Carr

The open-ness of The Carrs floodplain near Scarborough is what attracts many of our farmland bird species to nest here, but boundary features are important habitats too, none less so than the network of drainage ditches which form a distinctive element of the Vale of Pickering landscape.  These wet ditches are an important heritage feature in their own right and have been managed routinely since they were dug over two hundred years ago.

Ditch management, by which we mean the regular maintenance regime, carried out in autumn, winter or early spring, consists of cleaning out accumulations of silt, weed and vegetation in order to keep the water flowing. This is not merely a necessary operation for ditches which carry water from the land to the river system but it also performs a valuable role in managing them as wildlife habitats.

Some, which are important drainage arteries, may need to be maintained frequently – sometimes every year if the silation, debris or vegetation build-up is rapid. Those that are best for wildlife are managed on a rotational basis every few years, perhaps one in five or one in eight. Diversity and timing are key. Ideally a farm area would have a range of ditch habitats at different stages of succession – some just freshly cleaned and others at various stages of re-growth – hence diversity of habitats. Sometimes even longer rotations can be accommodated. In this way species which prefer clear, open sites and those which need choked well vegetated ditches will always have somewhere to thrive. Management in the winter has less impact upon ecology as a lot of wildlife is dormant. It is also helpful to wildlife if ditches which are immediately adjacent are not all done at once, potentially removing food plants and shelter. Cutting the banks or cleaning out only one side of a ditch one year and the other side the next, leaves undisturbed refuges.

Some of the best ditches for plants and invertebrates on The Carrs though are those which have an unusual origin – and the clue may be in the shape of the ditch. look on a map of The Carrs and you will readily identify lots of straight blue lines where artificial drainage ditches were cut when the large scale land drainage began after the 1800 Muston and Yedingham Drainage Act. This is the act of Parliament which paved the way for ‘the draining of the low grounds’ and the straightening of the Hertford and the part of The Derwent. At that time many subsidiary ditches were cut, draining into the New Cuts of the rivers. However in a few places there can still be found sinuous ditches which are relics of the former natural course of the Hertford. These older watercourses harbour some of the more notable wild plants and animals and may have greater ecological variety. Plants such as Water Violet, Water Whorl Grass and the primitive stoneworts are found in such places.

An Internal Drainage Board oversees the water level management of The Carrs including The Hertford Cut. Currently there are three IDBs in the Vale of Pickering (with Muston & Yedingham IDB being our local one) but they are preparing to amalgamate

Vanishing peat

At this time of year arable farmers in the Vale of Pickering can be found cultivating for spring crops. This is often on the land that sits too wet to plough it in autumn when modern cereal and oilseed crops are planted. After an exceptionally wet year many areas remain too soggy to drive machinery over without damaging the soil or getting bogged.

Let us not forget however that at critical growth stages a shortage of water can be equally damaging to crop yields. We had official drought orders in place in Yorkshire only a year ago. Lighter soils, such as sands and peats, both found in quantity in the Vale of Pickering are very prone to blowing away when dry. If strong winds coincide with dry conditions just after cultivation this can cause mass wasting of soils by wind erosion. It is not uncommon for farmers to have to re-drill crops on blow-away soils if rain fails at the critical time. Scenes like the one here near Killerby Carr, emphasise the vulnerability of peat soils not only to land drainage and subsequent shrinkage but also to wind erosion.

Soil is  a precious and limited commodity. Peat soils on The Carrs are especially precious, due to the carbon they hold, the heritage record within and their biodiversity potential. Yet how many of us give soils a second thought? Are they another aspect of our overlooked heritage in Yorkshire’s Hidden Vale?

A dust cloud of peat  tells a dramatic story of peatland erosion during a dry spring on The Carrs

A dust cloud of peat tells a dramatic story of peatland erosion during a dry spring on The Carrs

Rivers in the Vale of Pickering

Nov 2012 Yedingham Bridge Derwent
Derwent sunset, Yedingham Bridge. For much of its length through the Vale of Pickering the Derwent flows in an artificially straightened channel.

The Vale of Pickering is a place of many watercourses. Some are ‘proper’ rivers, in name and in appearance – all wiggly meanders, pools and riffles, natural banks. Others rather blur the distinction between a river and a drainage channel.

A cursory glance at a map will reveal there are many alternative names for watercourses and drainage ditches in the vale, including becks, dykes, cuts, drains and delphs.

In Yorkshire a beck is another name for a river or stream and many of the settlements peripheral to the Vale of Pickering have their own beck, indeed it may have played a defining role in the formation of settlements in ancient times.

In the Vale of Pickering I would suggest that a watercourse named a beck is likely to be a natural one. In contrast a cut, dike/dyke, drain or delph indicates a man-made channel, perhaps hundreds of years old but engineered to move water efficiently away from the land around it. The history and evolution of land drainage makes a fascinating subject – certainly I’ve had many revelations and surprises as I learnt about the carrs.

The Hertford River or as it is sometimes called the ‘New Cut’ is both a river or a drainage channel.

Some artificial drainage channels carry significant flows. The larger ones, which one might call ‘arterial drains’ are important for conveying water away from the fields. Even a small blockage or impediment causing water to back up a few inches can push water tables up in the middle of fields and result in surface flooding. This presents problems for harvesting or other agricultural operations. It is no accident that Internal Drainage Boards are funded by drainage levies from the landowners in their catchment.

Conversely it means that by controlling water levels in drainage ditches, one can deliberately cause splashy flooding on the land where it may benefit wetland species, such as breeding waders. There are some information on the practical methods for doing this on the Resources page.

Further info on the mechanics of land drainage and its history locally can be found on the land drainage page.


How well do you know the rivers in the Vale of Pickering? Here are a few examples:

‘Rivers’ – River Hertford, River Derwent, River Rye, River Seven, River Dove, River Riccal.

‘Becks’ – Pickering Beck, Costa Beck, Thornton Beck, Scampston Beck, Rillington Beck, Wintringham Beck, Holbeck, Hodgebeck, Brompton Beck, Ruston Beck, Beedale Beck, Weldale Beck, Cripple Beck, Difford Beck, Ellis Beck, Marrs Beck.

‘Drainage ditches’ – Loder’s Carr Drain, Pry End Drain, Black Dike, New Dike, Double Dikes, Red Bridge Sewer, Sherburn Cut, Twelve Foot Cut, South Delph.

I suspect that whilst many people are aware that the Vale of Pickering is a floodplain, few are aware just how many watercourses there are, natural and made by human hand.

Local Heritage Day

775186_410525529024937_585619170_oIf you live in the Vale of Pickering please come along and share what the landscape means to you along with and old stories you may have about the area. You can also bring along any artefacts or photos you have to share. There will be experts there to see what you have brought and local groups with displays about the landscape, history and wildlife of the area. As part of the Lottery fund bid we are trying to build evidence about the area so would really appreciate anything you have to share.

Good enough for Welcome to Yorkshire

An autumnal sunset over the Derwent, snapped by the Project Officer on his way home was selected for Welcome to Yorkshire’ November facebook album. Taken at Yedingham Bridge, North Yorkshire at the historic head of navigation on the Yorkshire River Derwent. The sign hanging from The Providence pub, right beside the river features two narrowboats carrying freight. For much of its working life however the effective head of the Derwent Navigation was at Malton, a dozen miles downstream because cargoes had to be transferred to vessels of smaller draft (which was no accident on the part of the canny Earl Fitzwilliam!) See this picture in Welcome to Yorkshire’s November Timeline album on Facebook.