The Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership column with Iain Mann

Our Farm Heritage team during one of the excavations. Photo by Rob Light.
Our Farm Heritage team during one of the excavations. Photo by Rob Light.

Thanks to the hard work and dedication of our volunteers, Upper Nidderdale must now be one of the most well documented areas in the country for its historic environment. This is the view of Rob Light, one of the Landscape Partnership’s Heritage Project Officers.

Rob is talking about the Our Farm Heritage Project, now in its fourth year.

The project is an ambitious attempt to tell the story of the Upper Nidderdale Landscape over millennia by surveying and documenting it a farm at a time.

A team of trained volunteers, led by local community archaeology group Iron Age Nidderdale, has so far conducted detailed investigations on fifteen farms.

Bob Barker, the group’s secretary, has been closely involved from the outset.

Bob explains their methods.

He said: “We’ve generally got between four and ten volunteers involved. Not all of them are out in the field – some are doing desk-based research. We carry out walkovers of the fields and their edges, noting the age and condition of the walls, and recording the locations of any historic features using handheld GPS units.

“We might be looking at field shapes, or platforms that might be the site of a former settlement. It’s really about judgement – keeping our eyes open and trying to deduce patterns.”

Sites with particular archaeological potential might be singled out for further investigation. With help from the volunteers, West Yorkshire Archaeological Services has conducted geophysics surveys on two of the sites, and Jim Brightman from Solstice Heritage led archaeological excavations at a further three.

The geophysics surveys produced some fascinating results and the excavations confirmed the volunteers’ broad impressions. Two hitherto unknown Iron Age settlements have so been uncovered.

All the project’s findings are being converted to a digital format and will be uploaded onto GIS mapping software, to result eventually in a comprehensive record of Nidderdale’s historic environment.

One of the ultimate aims is for this information to be added to the Historical Environment Record, if farmers and landowners give their consent.

The people involved are mostly retired, but come from all walks of life. Bob himself is a retired chemical engineer. He said: “We welcome anyone who’s interested to come and get involved – we’ve got former teachers, doctors, engineers, a postman.”

Rob Light has been hugely impressed by the volunteers’ dedication. He said: “They’ve done a fantastic amount of work and achieved remarkable results.”

He’s also keen to stress that the project couldn’t have been such a success without the enthusiastic support of farmers and landowners. He said: “They’ve been really cooperative in allowing the volunteers access and they will all receive reports detailing the possible archaeological features on their land.

“It’s been great to see how interested and knowledgeable many of them are about the history of their own farm holdings.”

The Our Farm Heritage Project runs until next year but Bob Barker says the team has no intention of disbanding after that. He said: “Just because the project finishes, it doesn’t mean we will! There’s lots more exciting stuff to do and things to discover.”

If you’re interested in volunteering for the Our Farm Heritage Project, or any of our other projects, visit our website, uppernidderdale.org.uk for details.