Research unlocks secrets of Pennines

GROUNDBREAKING radar techniques are being used to unlock the historic secrets of one of the North’s wildest upland areas.

GROUNDBREAKING radar techniques are being used to unlock the historic secrets of one of the North’s wildest upland areas.

Over the next five years a major archaeological research project will concentrate on the North Pennines, an area straddling Northumberland and Cumbria.

In the first two weeks of fieldwork, 300 new archaeological sites have been discovered, from prehistoric features to 19th Century mining remains.

The final haul of new sites could run into the thousands.

English Heritage’s Research Department is working with the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership to scour 300 square kilometres of Alston Moor in Northumberland and Cumbria. The aim is to build up a comprehensive picture of how the landscape evolved and identify future conservation priorities.

Today the North Pennines are celebrated for their geology and wild, natural beauty, but it has also been one of the most intensively mined landscapes in Britain.

Lead, silver and coal have been exploited with early miners also doubling as farmers.

As well as careful observation and mapping on the ground, new methods of discovery and analysis are being used, including radar imagery captured by specially equipped aircraft.

The landscape around Alston has been three-dimensionally radar-mapped, and sites of particular potential interest will now be subjected to detailed ground survey.

The project manager is Stewart Ainsworth, from English Heritage’s Research Department, who is also a regular member of TV’s Time Team.

He said: “The radar gives a three-dimensional picture of everything on the ground, down to quite small features.

“We want to build up a picture of how the landscape has evolved over the last 2,000 years or so and how man-made changes have interacted with the natural environment.

“Because this area is off the beaten track, it has been very under-researched and this will be an English heritage flagship project.

“The moors and fields of this area are littered with abandoned structures, humps and hollows which provide ghostly reminders of the industrial past.”

He said that studying the way water was extensively managed by the miners and how this had changed natural systems would also help in climate change policies to preserve peatland areas.

The findings will also feed into management plans by the North Pennines AONB Partnership and Natural England.

From next April, opportunities will be available for local people to take an active part in the project.

North Pennines AONB historic environment officer Paul Frodsham said: “Traditionally, the public have been consumers of a heritage researched and presented by ‘experts’. But from now on we want local people to play an active role in the archaeology of the North Pennines, helping to research and celebrate what is after all their heritage.”

Full training in a range of archaeological techniques will be on offer. Anyone interested in helping with the Alston Moor project or projects elsewhere in the North Pennines, can contact Paul Frodsham on 01388 528801 or email him on


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