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Celebrating and protecting
the rich cultural
heritage, landscape
and wildlife of

Working with local people in the Rede Valley, we have successfully secured an award of £1.8 million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, to celebrate Redesdale’s rich cultural heritage and to protect and enhance the area’s landscape and wildlife.

Phil Bowyer explores the developments in one trench during a recent Revitalising Redesdale archaeological excavation. Over to Phil to give his perspective of the event in this special guest blog.

‘During the recent Revitalising Redesdale exploratory excavation at Yatesfield on the Otterburn Ranges, I discovered how much can change in the interpretation of a trench over just three days.

On the first day of the dig led by Wessex Archaeology, I had found a piece of shaped flint and after a day off I returned on Wednesday to be told by Ben, the dig leader, that it had been identified from his photo as a probable Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age blade by Phil Harding of Time Team fame. However, rather than getting the chance to get back into the trench that had contained the flint I was asked to start de-turfing a new trench across a bank further up the slope. Andy Curtis and I duly set to on what appeared to be a fairly mundane length of stony bank running along a possible platformed area.

By the end of the day we had exposed a stony bank and flat area with a few stones above. It fitted the initial thoughts about a banked platform.

The banked platform exposed. Photo credit: Phil Bowyer

The next day Ben set us onto clearing back the flat area at the top of the bank. By lunch time we had exposed a few more stones and Ben was wondering whether we could have double-faced walling with a rubble infill.

Could it be a double-faced wall? Photo credit: Phil Bowyer

Andy and I were keen to explore a bit further and Ben was content for us to do so. With quite a lot of trenches to back-fill on Friday and it now being Thursday afternoon we thought this would be our last chance to find out anything further. As we were troweling down and removing some small stones I came across a rounded pebble unlike any of the other stones. It had a central white-ish, possibly quartz, band running around it.

The pebble. Photo credit: Phil Bowyer

This interesting find roused our interest. Soon after we uncovered what appears to be a cupmarked stone. Peck marks were visible which suggests that it is not an erosion feature and that it had not been exposed to the elements for a long period. This in turn suggests that it was a deliberate deposit rather than a random field stone thrown into a wall.

Cup-marked stone. Photo credit: Phil Bowyer

As can be seen from the above photo, and the one that follows, we had also started to uncover a number of larger flat stones at a similar level. It was all starting to look less like a wall and more like…what? As you will know if you have been involved on archaeological digs, there is plenty of room for speculation and this is one of the things that keeps you digging. Often during a dig the speculations can far out-number the quantity of finds!

Our excitement was raised further when Andy started uncovering a quite large area of black material at the same level as the flat stones. We by now certainly had enough to have Ben paying close attention and he decided that we needed to take a good sample of Andy’s dark material.

The combination of the pebble, the cup-marked stone, the flat stones and the dark material inevitably gave rise to thought of whether this could be a burial monument. The conjunction of banks and burial monuments has been found at various locations so such thoughts were not unreasonable.

Is it a burial monument? Note the dark material by the scale rod. Photo credit: Phil Bowyer

At the end of the afternoon everyone was gathered around the trench and discussion centred on questions of what sort of burial structure did we have here. There was a high level of excitement. As excavation leader, Ben was being understandably cautious about jumping to conclusions. As this week was an initial exploratory excavation of a large and complex site and the final day would need to be concentrated on recording and back-filling, he was reluctant to commit to further digging, but eventually sanctioned a little further careful exploration on the final morning.

As Andy was unable to attend on Friday, I was joined by Wayne for a last bit of careful excavation. Given that we thought that the feature could well be a burial monument it was important to proceed cautiously so as not to miss anything of significance. Small darker patches emerging had to be checked out carefully, but we encountered nothing that was extensive enough to require more sampling and we encountered no artefacts. However as we proceeded we exposed further large flat stones and it became clear that we had quite an extensive paved surface. Our would-be grave was turning into part of a possible roundhouse!

So there we have it. Over the course of two and a half days our trench had gone from a platformed bank to a double-faced wall and then a grave and ended up as a probable roundhouse. Assuming we will be able to return to this site at a later date I’m sure that among other things we will be extending this particular trench…and who knows what we will find!

Now it looks like part of a round-house. Photo credit: Phil Bowyer
What next? Photo credit: Phil Bowyer

The Yatesfield site is large and complex and shows signs of multi-period features. It was unknown until Revitalising Redesdale volunteers undertook a Lidar survey with Paul Frodsham. It offers great potential for a lot more investigation. I’m sure that we will all await the Wessex Archaeology report on this first exploratory week and look forward to an opportunity to return to this fascinating site.’

Thanks to Phil for this very interesting guest blog! If you want to join in on our upcoming archaeological excavations keep up to date via our events page.

Revitalising Redesdale’s Assistant Project Officer Natasha highlights the importance of peat and gives an insight into peat restoration work happening within the valley.

It won’t come as a surprise to most of us that peat is important for our planet, to store huge amounts of carbon – peat bogs must be kept in good condition or we face losing these carbon sponges, contributing to further global warming. National campaigns to stop the extraction of peat for compost is a real hot topic at the moment, so please do your bit and go peat-free in your garden!

Peat restoration work at Whitelee Moor NNR completed February-March 2021, involving coir dam installation and sphagnum translocation.

Our peat bogs are also hugely important for wildlife, from the carpets of sphagnum mosses to cotton grasses, and bog specialists like sundews, cloudberry and bog asphodel. These plant species support a vast range of birds, butterflies and reptiles. At Whitelee Moor NNR in Redesdale, the heather moorland supports merlin, buzzard, hen harrier, skylark and meadow pipit, as well as providing breeding ground for dunlin and golden plover. The latter I have had the pleasure of watching from afar while they find the best place for nesting.

Bamboo canes marked out points for coir dam installation across the degraded peat prior to peat restoration work at Whitelee.

Healthy bogs also filter water through the peat and soak up rainwater to reduce flood risk. Our peat restoration work within Redesdale is clearly hugely important. With our partners at Northumberland Wildlife Trust we are working to improve the quality of the valley’s peatland for the benefit of all, through ecosystem services and providing vital habitat for wildlife.

So how did we do it…?

NWT staff and volunteers carrying heavy coir logs across Whitelee ready to create coir dams across degraded sections of peat.

Peat restoration at Whitelee Moor NNR this year happened back in February/March. We carry out work in winter to minimise disturbance to birds that nest here during the spring. Pulling off huge projects like this on a site as remote as Whitelee, presents a multitude of challenges. We faced tight funding deadlines; a lack of helicopter availability to transport materials onto site; and of course everything winter weather throws at you 500m above sea level. With a great deal of planning, adaptability and a little tenacity we managed to complete the project with time to spare. The success was mostly down to the huge efforts from volunteers, staff and of course NWT’s trusty quadbike, ‘Quentin’.

Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Senior Estates Officer, Geoff Dobbins, moving coir logs across site with help from ‘Quentin’ the quad.

Here’s Geoff Dobbins, NWT’s Senior Estates Officer to explain more:

‘Time for an unsung hero of the Trust to step in, one of the longest serving members of the team, unloved and forgotten at the back of a barn. Who needs a helicopter when you can sprout coir wings, it’s time for ‘Quentin Vroom’ to save the day. We managed to complete the installation of over 700 coir dams and sphagnum planting well within the deadline – thanks to all the staff and volunteers who responded to the call to arms and braved the border ridge (sphagnum planting in February is not for the faint hearted, the sight of icicles hanging from Duncan Hoyle’s beard sums it up).’

Coir logs, long sausage shaped netting stuffed with coconut fibres, were used to dam eroded peat at the very top of Whitelee Moor. By installing small dams, runoff will be reduced (and therefore erosion), and instead, this creates pools of water which promotes sphagnum moss growth. Ultimately, this will aid peat production in the long term, as peat is created as sphagnum moss and other vegetation partially decomposes in waterlogged conditions. Peat only accumulates at an extremely slow rate (0.5 to 1mm each year!), making it incredibly important to preserve.

A good example of reducing runoff, as water is already pooling behind the newly installed coir dams. Sphagnum moss has also been planted here to promote growth in these pools.

We also translocated sphagnum moss from areas at Whitelee Moor with successful moss growth, and planted the sphagnum in pools behind our installed coir logs. See the video below of how we harvested the sphagnum onsite.

Further work is planned up at Whitelee Moor in the coming winter season, so keep an eye out for updates.

All photo and video content credit to Natasha Hemsley.

View of Redesdale valley from Whitelee Moor NNR

Well, what’ve we been up to this month? In spite of the extra precautions introduced to keep everyone safe, the Revitalising Redesdale Team and Partners have managed to keep projects going, and even get the ball rolling on some new ones! Over to Trainee Assistant, Natasha Hemsley…

By far the biggest task I’ve been involved with this month has been creating a path at Whitelee Moor National Nature Reserve, up at Carter Bar on the Scottish Border. I managed to join in a couple of weeks into construction, so the gravel section of the path had already been laid by Northumberland Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers!

Start of the new path construction at Whitelee Moor NNR, Carter Bar. Photo credit: Natasha Hemsley
Boardwalk construction at Whitelee Moor NNR, Carter Bar. Photo credit: Natasha Hemsley

The major effort of this task is putting in the boardwalk: imagine trying to knock in posts with a weighty fencing mell hammer whilst standing up to your ankles in squelchy bog, oh, and it’s raining too!

Alan and Duncan building the new boardwalk at Whitelee Moor NNR, Carter Bar. Photo credit: Natasha Hemsley

Though true for a number of days up at Whitelee, on a clear day the views are incredible and well worth it!

Stunning views down the valley from Whitelee Moor NNR, Carter Bar. Photo credit: Natasha Hemsley

When the boardwalk is finished, it will enable better access to the top of Carter Pike and cairn, as well as to a fantastic sculpture (watch this space), avoiding difficult to pass boggy patches along the route. This will be a great place to stop and look over Catcleugh Reservoir and down the valley, to enjoy whilst on a lovely weekend hike, or to break up a car journey over the border to and from Scotland.

View of Carter Pike from the boardwalk at Whitelee Moor NNR, Carter Bar. Photo credit: Natasha Hemsley

As the winter months approach, now is the time to start a programme of work on our peatland sites within Redesdale. Days spent removing non-native Sitka Spruce, that have shot up in the landscape over the last year, will keep us busy for a little while. There are more plans in progress for the interesting and hard work of peatland restoration this winter.

Northumberland Wildlife Trust volunteers removing non-native Sitka Spruce at Steng Moss. Photo credit: Natasha Hemsley
Beautiful view from Steng Moss (you might just be able to make out Elsdon village behind the second patch of trees from the left). Photo credit: Natasha Hemsley

So this is some of what the Revitalising Redesdale team and I have been working on over the last month. We are very fortunate that some projects/partners have been able to continue working over this difficult time with extra safety measures in place.  We look forward to updating you on these and other ongoing projects in the near future!

Written by Revitalising Redesdale Trainee Assistant, Natasha Hemsley.

A first experience of a traditional skill by Natasha Hemsley, Revitalising Redesdale Assistant Trainee.

Hello again,

At the beginning of the month, I was fortunate enough to visit the beautiful St. Cuthbert’s Church, Corsenside. I was there with Northumberland Wildlife Trust volunteers to provide reinforcements to a group of local volunteers, continuing their great work in the churchyard over the last couple of years.

We were tasked with scything two sections of grassland within the churchyard. The majority of wildflowers had finished flowering but the scythed wildflower meadow areas and the adjacent unmanaged coarse, tussocky grassland were still poles apart!

Yellow rattle and other wildflowers in the meadow area back in August. Photo credit: Jennifer Care.

The first task of the day was to become familiar with the scythe itself. Having not used one before it was quite daunting knowing I’d be wielding a large blade around at my feet. I hoped that I’d managed to tighten it correctly so it didn’t swing off and do some harm! (Editor: I don’t think this actually happens, but if not tightened enough the blade can easily get knocked out of correct alignment and need adjusting again!) Following steps set out by a scythe training manual, helped by the best efforts of someone who had done it before, we managed to attach the relevant parts of our scythes and correct the position of the blade for accuracy of cut. It was then time to practice with our newly assembled tools.

Barbara sharpening her scythe with a whetstone. Photo credit: Jennifer Care.

Others took to it straight away, however I seemed to lack the technique of a graceful swing and felt as though I was instead hacking my way through the grass, using brute force rather than skill. I chose to believe the others when they insisted that skill comes later, with more practice. Either that or it’s their cunning plan to get me to help again next year…

Elaine, Barbara and myself perfecting our scything technique. Photo credit: Jennifer Care.

I’m told we had it much easier than in previous years, since this is the third year of the project, so the meadow areas have had their annual cut twice before. Despite this, the next day I felt aches in muscles that I didn’t know I had and clearly hadn’t used before! However, being able to see easily the areas cut and the difference this management is making to the diversity of the grassland made it well worth the effort.

Photos of the meadow areas before (left) and after (right) this year’s scything. Photo credits: Jennifer Care.

By far my favourite part of the whole process came later: The cut grass is left to dry, turned, the odd nettle/thistle/rosebay willowherb is removed to compost, left to dry again, turned and so on until it is time to bale the hay.  A simple process, but therapeutic and rather fun, playing with the purpose built hand baler, alongside a smaller working prototype making tiny bales. Together we created a tower of hay bales ready for local distribution.

Dave and myself creating bales of hay using a hand baler. Photo credit: Jennifer Care.

If you would like to lend a hand alongside local volunteers next year, keep an eye out for updates on our website and Facebook page.

Dave and myself proud of the end result. Photo credit: Jennifer Care.

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