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Farmers protect Stone Age land

Cayton & Flixton 'Carrs'
Cayton and Flixton Carrs span the low-lying ground from Ganton to Muston

Farmers near Scarborough are helping to protect a buried Stone Age landscape in the Vale of Pickering and bring back wetland birds by restoring floodplain grassland.

The River Hertford floodplain spans the low ground from Ganton to Muston at the eastern end of the Vale of Pickering.

Known as 'The Carrs', this flat area has been drained for agriculture for more than two hundred years, creating the network of wet ditches we see today.

Black peat soils, up to three metres deep, are all that remains of a nine thousand year old Stone Age wetland, dubbed 'Lake Flixton'.

Drainage ditch
The land has been drained for farming creating a network of wet ditches

The best known historic site on the lost shoreline of the lake is Star Carr. Countless commuters and visitors speed past every year just a short distance to the west on the A64 between Staxton and Seamer. Why then is it so little known outside the archaeological fraternity?

One reason is the difficulty of access; there are no public roads to it although a public footpath from Flixton to Seamer does pass close to Star Carr.

Despite its European importance the site is undesignated, due to the limitations of existing legislation. However the whole area represents a buried landscape used by hunter-gatherer humans from a period of history from which we have little evidence but flakes of flint.

What marks out Lake Flixton's sites is the presence of organic materials with the flint. This means things like worked wood, antler and butchered animal bone as well as fossil plant remains telling the story of the ancient wetland landscape.

Today the open landscape of low-lying fields offers great potential to restore a mosaic of important wetland habitats for ground nesting wading birds.

Tim Burkinshaw
Tim Burkinshaw is coordinating work on the project with local farmers

Snipe, curlew and lapwing have suffered big declines nationally but still breed on farms in the area. Otters and water voles also benefit from sensitive management of ditches, together with a wide range of other wetland wildlife.

Under the umbrella of the Cayton and Flixton Carrs Wetland Project, Tim Burkinshaw, based at Scarborough Borough Council, is coordinating work with local farmers and helping them to secure Higher Level Stewardship agreements with government agency, Natural England.

HLS enables farmers to create and manage valuable habitats on their land as part of a profitable farm business. Funding is specifically targeted in the Carrs to restore grazed floodplain grasslands for breeding waders, boost declining birds on arable farmland and protect the unique Mesolithic archaeology within the peat.

The wetland project is a partnership between Scarborough Borough Council, Natural England, the RSPB, the Environment Agency and North Yorkshire County Council.

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