Conservation on Heritage Sites on Birkrigg Common

Since 2015, Morecambe Bay Partnership (supported by the Heritage Fund) has been leading a programme of conservation work on Birkrigg Common tackling vegetation growth to protect nationally important historic sites. We have been working in close partnership with Historic England, volunteers from the Ulverston branch of Cumbria Wildlife Trust, community volunteers, The National Trust and local organisations to clear vegetation (mainly bracken) from sites which have been determined to be at threat from damage from encroaching vegetation.

  

Why?

Birkrigg Common is a special landscape which contains a multitude of archaeological sites and important flora, fauna and fungi. In the summer months, the vegetation coverage grows and, in many cases, covers up these important sites. This leaves them vulnerable to damage (because you can’t see where the features are).The bracken roots (rhizomes) are dense and can damage archaeological layers beneath the surface. Under the thick bracken canopy grassland is unable to grow. This reduces the amount of grassland available on the Common which supports a diverse range of flora/fauna. 

 

What is the importance of this site?

Birkrigg Common is a jewel in the Furness landscape renowned for its stunning setting, providing panoramic views across Morecambe Bay, the Lake District Fells, the Pennines and beyond. Walkers, cyclists and tourists alike use and appreciate this fabulous resource and this work is helping protect and preserve this unique landscape for future generations to enjoy. Many of the archaeological sites date to the Bronze Age (around 4000 years old) and are protected by Historic England as Scheduled Monuments. This includes Birkrigg Stone Circle, a rare example of a double (or concentric) monument, burial mounds and settlement sites. Nineteenth century lime kilns and quarries bear testament to past agricultural/industrial activity and the Common was even used in the 20th century by the military to undertake target practice.  

 

What are we doing?

With regular ‘bashing’ the bracken growth is reduced, as each time it is bashed the bracken rhizomes (roots beneath the surface) have to put new energy into re-growing. Over time as the ‘bashing’ continues the rhizomes become weaker. This reduces the bracken fronds (the green leaves above the surface) growth and density. Over time bracken bashing has been proven to significantly reduce or even remove bracken growth over an area. 

 

Under the supervision of archaeologist, Louise Martin, volunteers are carefully clearing such vegetation away from the immediate areas of archaeological and ancient grassland sites. 

 

Watch some of our work and results here.

 

Up until 2017, three of these ancient sites had been on the ‘Heritage at Risk Register’. The vegetation removal work which was achieved from 2015-2017 enabled these sites to be no longer deemed ‘at risk’, along with improving the setting of the monuments and enhancing the visitor experience. 

 

However, our work is far from done. Each site needs regular clearance during the growing season to keep the bracken at bay, and there are many more sites to tackle!  

 

 

If you'd like to volunteer to help with the conservation works at Birkrigg Stone Circle, please find out more here or contact us.

Back to History and heritage projects page

Main image: Jon Sparks

Aerial images: Aerial-Cam

 

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