Caves cleaned thanks to partnership

June 28, 2021

Caves and their environment across the Ingleborough area have been conserved thanks to a partnership between cavers, volunteers and Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT).

Close to 30 projects have been completed, including graffiti cleaning at Katnot Cave, scrap removal from Alum Pot, track repairs at Gaping Gill, and capping and entrance work at Great Douk and Pen-y-Ghent Pot.

The cave conservation project was managed by Andrew Hinde at Natural England in partnership with the Council of Northern Caving Clubs.

Mike Appleton finds out more.

“The cave conservation scheme is pretty impressive,” Hannah Rose at Stories in Stone said. “It empowered volunteers to identify their own projects, seek landowner permission and carry out the required works, often donating materials as well as time.

“We saw an impressive 2,212 hours, or 306 days, donated to the project, with 119 volunteers contributing overall. There was a core team of around 16 volunteers and the results of the project can be seen above and below ground.”

The project began in 2016 with the cleaning of Katnot Cave near Ribblehead. As a beginners’ cave it was important not to give the impression that graffiti is a normal and accepted part of caving. Volunteers completed a photo record and protected any historical markings before removing several years of scrawling from the walls.

Skirwith Cave, Slab Cave and Blood Cave were restored during the year too, and a major project was completed to remove a staggering 2.4 tonnes of historical waste from Gunnerfleet Cave in Chapel le Dale.

The Philpin Sleights track was also repaired.

In 2017, track repairs and landscaping on the Hurnal Moss area of Ingleborough repaired the damage left by heavy traffic from agricultural use and the Gaping Gill winch events over the years. Over the course of two days, the team improved drainage and restored the surface.

450 trees were also planted at the enclosure to Wilson Cave in Ribblesdale to support the cave dwelling Tissue Moth.

By April, 250kg of scrap metal had been removed from the bottom of the Alum Pot over two days and in July, the dig at Great Douk had been capped and the entrance to Pen-y-Ghent Pot repaired, involving almost 270 hours of volunteer time.

2018 brought ballast spreading on tracks, stock fencing, entrance repair, and capping at Gaping Gill, Foul Pot, Runscar Cave, Squid Pot and Bloat Pot respectively.

The clean-up of Roaring Hole at Southerscales saw the removal of several generations of cave digging and exploratory equipment from sites deep within the cave. The material – decomposing timber and plastic pipe – was removed from the fell and recycled wherever possible. Open shafts were also fenced to prevent livestock from falling in. Inside the caves, speleothems were cleaned and protected.

Towards the end of the year, volunteers completed three more projects: the capping of the exploratory cave shaft Smeagol’s Pot, track repairs of Hurnal Moss and Southerscales pond clearance.

2019’s projects continued in the same vein: clean up at P5 Shake Hole, Christmas Cracker Pot shaft lining and lid construction, Pay Sank scaffolding and Pot Noodle back filling.

The stabilisation of an old cave dig near Christmas Cracker Pot involved nine volunteers who accumulatively gave 123 hours of time. Works included fitting a twin wall pipe to the entrance shaft and fitting a stock-proof lid.

Inside Gaping Gill, in the Old East Passage, degraded conservation tape was removed and replaced with stainless steel conservation pins and orange nylon tape, ensuring important features are protected for generations.

The restoration of the Gaping Gill access track also continued after the Bradford and Craven Potholing Clubs’ winch meets. The access route crosses a SSSI and SAC designated area which now requires restoration to ensure no cumulative degradation occurs.

Time Pot entrance restoration and landscaping saw the capping of the largest open cave dig on Ingleborough. This involved construction and design of a steel framework to cap the dig and casing with concrete lintels followed by back filling of dig spoil.

Finally, in 2020, fourteen volunteers removed derelict fencing around the classic Sell Gill Hole and replaced it with new post and rail fencing, at the request of the landowner.

Andrew Hinde said: “Sadly, during the year, one of the project’s most keen and capable volunteers Andy Farrow died in hospital of a heart attack whilst suffering from Covid-19, aged 52. Andy overcame several serious injuries and disabilities throughout his life but was always fully committed in anything he took part in, above and below ground. His toughness and tenacity were an inspiration to all who caved and conserved with him.

“Since the start of the scheme, Andy had given more than eighty hours of his time to protect the caves of the Dales.

“This project has been a culmination of the dedication of people like Andy and the other volunteers, giving their spare time to restore these precious caves. The protected environments are a legacy of the scheme, but the people themselves are an important part that will never be forgotten.”

The work was carried out as part of Stories in Stone, a scheme of conservation and community projects concentrated on the Ingleborough area. The scheme was developed by the Ingleborough Dales Landscape Partnership, led by YDMT, and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

First published in Descent (279) April 2021, reproduced by permission.