Countryside Life column with the Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership

The conservation work at Prosperous Smelt Mill. Picture taken by L Brown.
The conservation work at Prosperous Smelt Mill. Picture taken by L Brown.

In our last few updates we’ve focused on the great work being done by partner organisations across the wider community, such as the staff at the Cardigan Centre in Leeds, whom we featured last month.

This month we thought it was time to have a round-up of what our team at the Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership office in Pateley Bridge have been working on.

Louise Brown is our historic nidderdale project officer.

For the last couple of years she’s been working on a conservation project at Prosperous Mine.

You’ll know the mine if you’ve walked the Nidderdale Way along Ashfoldside and crossed the beck at the little footbridge.

You find yourself in a picturesque cleft in the moors, with spoil heaps and tumbledown buildings spreading up the hillside.

For much of the 19th Century, this was the scene of a bustling lead mining and smelting operation.

The Yorkshire Dales is not short of lead mining remains, but Prosperous boasts a particularly comprehensive set of features, including remnants of machinery and a well-preserved flue with an unusual beehive condenser. For this reason, it is considered to be of national importance.

As ever with archaeological sites, the delicate question is how to preserve the ruins for study and enjoyment without detracting from their atmosphere and tranquillity.

The decision was given extra urgency by the speed at which the buildings have been decaying. The mine was abandoned in 1889. By the 1940s the roof of the smelt mill had begun to cave in.

A photo from 1955 shows that the roof has gone altogether and the slow-motion collapse of the building is obvious to see. Time and the weather have since taken a further toll.

So one of our first tasks was to consolidate the remains.

During the spring of 2015 Louise worked with a specialist contractor to stabilise the walls of the smelt mill and the engine house.

The stonework was re-pointed with traditional lime mortar, unstable sections were rebuilt, and a protective layer of turf was laid on the tops of some of the walls.

Among the more recent works at the site that Louise has overseen was the capping of the main Prosperous Mine shaft. This 70m-deep hole in the ground had been fenced off and roughly covered with corrugated iron.

Now the mouth of the shaft has been made accessible and covered with a secure steel grille. Visitors can dare themselves to peer into the shaft’s murky depths!

Louise is enthusiastic about the improvements.

She said: “These elements of the landscape, the old stone quarries and mineral mines, are a window into the social history of Nidderdale.

“We can’t just let them fall to pieces – it’s vital that they’re understood and preserved for future generations to discover.

“Next on the agenda is the installation of some discreet interpretation panels. We’ve also developed a 3D interactive model of how the smelt mill looked before we began the restoration work, which is available on our website.”

Next, let’s catch up with Tara Challoner, our farming and wildlife project officer.

The last time we mentioned Tara’s activities in this column she was working with Nidderdale farmers to restore hay meadows and wading-bird habitat.

Her current focus is an ambitious attempt to join up such farm-by-farm initiatives into a coordinated, landscape-scale wildlife conservation programme.

The new Facilitated Farming Group is a way of bringing local farmers, gamekeepers and other land managers together and giving them the training and financial support to tackle the sorts of environmental problems that are best dealt with through collaboration between neighbours, rather than by individuals working in isolation.

An example might be one farmer providing nesting habitat for wading birds and another with suitable adjoining land providing chick-rearing habitat, with the two farmers working in tandem to ensure the birds have uninhibited access. The scheme has huge potential not just to benefit wildlife but to enhance life in Nidderdale for everyone.

Controlling flooding and improving water quality are both best managed across whole river catchments rather than on the small scale.

It’s an innovative project, and one that Tara thinks works well because of the close links built up over the years between farmers and the Nidderdale AONB.

She said: “It’s really positive that so many farmers have joined the group – it shows their enthusiasm to help wildlife and their genuine interest in it. We’re looking forward to showcasing their farms as exemplars of upland habitat management.”

That’s all we have space for this month. There’s more of the latest news from the Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership on our website.