Archaeological survey to probe blaze hit Ilkley Moor

Posted: 30.05.19

New leaflet warns of growing wildfire danger

An archaeological survey of blaze affected areas of Ilkley Moor is being mounted as new advice is published to combat the upsurge in wildfires across the South Pennines.

Rural regeneration agency Pennine Prospects has teamed up with the Moors for the Future Partnership to issue a leaflet asking people to be more fire aware.

It warns that the growing frequency of blazes poses a danger to animals and vegetation and to efforts to restore peat moorland, described as Britain’s rainforest for its capacity to store carbon.

Thousands of copies are being distributed across public sites as the peak visitor season gets underway.

New figures also reveal that over the past 10 months 22 square kilometres of moorland has been hit by fire in the South Pennines, Peak District (Dark Peak) and West Pennine Moors.

Moors for the Future, working with partners including Pennine Prospects, is restoring peat damaged by centuries of industrial pollution across this area, with £35m so far invested or pledged. Chris Dean, Head of Programme Delivery at Moors for the Future, said:

‘Much of the peatland in the Peak District and South Pennines is much drier than it ought to be and the dry peat will burn. Moorland fires are easily started by people lighting barbeques, campfires and cigarettes. Although they put their fire out, underground peat may have caught alight, which can burn, unseen, for days or weeks before re-emerging to ignite the surface. If you see a fire, don’t assume it is a managed burn. Phone 999 immediately.’

On Ilkley Moor a blaze over the Easter weekend took 100 firefighters to bring under control.

The wider area is one of the most archaeological rich in Europe with over 400 known sites, including cup and ring marks and petroglyphs carved into stones by people who lived before the Pyramids were built.

Now Pennine Prospects, with the co-operation of landowner Bradford Council, is mounting a three day survey to assess the damage caused to known historic sites and discover if the blaze has uncovered previously undetected archaeological features.

Chris Atkinson, Heritage and Landscape Development Officer with Pennine Prospects, explained:

“Where the fire has burnt off vegetation and the top layer of peat it’s possible there are archaeological features waiting to be found. They could include more prehistoric markings, flints, or signs of historic settlement. We just don’t know what we’ll find until we take a closer look. What we do know is that any sites uncovered will be vulnerable to erosion as they are now exposed to the weather. So we may need to make management recommendations, such has as covering them with protective heather bales.”

The survey team comprises archaeologists and public volunteers, who will be given training in archaeological survey techniques.


Notes to Editor
Wider wildfire context. In 2018 there were a record breaking 79 major (>25ha) wildfires in the UK. This includes all habitats, not just moorland. In the first four months of 2019 there were 96 in the UK.* Of the 540 records in the database (from 2007), one is recorded as a “natural occurrence” the rest are caused by people, through a combination of deliberate arson and accidental causes ( BBQ’s, discarded cigarettes etc). There are a high number of unknown/unrecorded causes (through either lack of recording, or inability to determine the cause).

*Data collated by the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS)

Pennine Prospects was established in 2005 and promotes, protects and enhances the natural and cultural heritage of the South Pennines. Bounded by the Peak District to the south and Dales in the north and covering parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire, it is the only upland landscape in England not protected by a legal designation. Together with partners, Pennine Prospects is working to establish a South Pennine Park – the first of its kind in the UK – to create a more sustainable and prosperous future for the people and landscape. More details at, or follow us on Twitter @pennineprospects

Since 2003 the Moors for the Future Partnership has been striving to protect the most degraded landscape in Europe. Using innovative conservation techniques, 32 square kilometres of black degraded peat has been transformed in the Peak District National Park and South Pennines. A monitoring programme is providing evidence of the effectiveness of these techniques, backed up by innovative communications that inspire people to care for these special places.

The work of the partnership is being delivered by the Moors for the Future staff team through the Peak District National Park Authority as the lead and accountable body. It is supported through partners including Pennine Prospects, the Environment Agency, National Trust, RSPB, Severn Trent, United Utilities, Yorkshire Water and representatives of the moorland owner and farming community.

Healthy peat moors:

• Provide a unique habitat for a wide range of wildlife.
• Absorb and store carbon – peat is the single biggest store of carbon in the UK, storing the equivalent of 20 years of all UK CO2 emissions and keeping it out of the atmosphere.
• Provide good quality drinking water – 70% of our drinking water comes from these landscapes. Damaged peat erodes into the reservoirs so that water companies have to spend more money cleaning the water for consumption.
• Potentially help reduce the risk of flooding.

Image: Chris Atkinson, archaeologist from Pennine Prospects, is helped by a volunteer to measure an historic boundary wall revealed after wildfires struck Ilkley Moor. The work is part of a three day archaeological survey of blaze hit areas.

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Media calls to Richard Darn at Pennine Prospects on 0775 367 0038.