Badger setts and vast swathes of bracken are posing threats to the structural integrity of ancient monuments across the North York Moors National Park, including at a number of war memorials.
As the nation prepares to stop and observe a respectful silence tomorrow to mark Remembrance Sunday during the 100th year since the outbreak of the First World War, careful management is underway to protect many sites of remembrance from decay at the hands of nature.
Mags Waughman was appointed as monuments scheme officer for the North York Moors National Park more than two years ago and has been on a mission since, with the help of volunteers and consultants, to survey and address damage at the most at-risk monuments within the park’s boundaries.
And the work is paying off, with badgers and the disruption they cause through tunnelling and disturbing soil, one of the threats to the 840 monuments in the park, some of which date back to the Bronze Age.
She said: “Badgers are a big problem in that they can cause damage but only a small number of monuments are affected by them at the moment and they are only a small component of the project.
“When I took up the post two and a half years ago, the biggest threat was from bracken. It doesn’t look like it causes damage but it’s the underground parts of the plant that can be dangerous - it’s the way that their roots spread.”
Where tugging the plant clean out of the ground fails, chemical treatments are used to help remove the plant’s roots.
Badgers are an interesting problem, Ms Waughman said.
“They can disturb a huge amount of soil but we have to balance dealing with them with the desire for nature conservation.
“We don’t want to get rid of badgers; some of the monuments are very long and linear - sometimes up to a kilometre or more - so if there are many of them and they’re restricted to one location we let them have that bit of the monument and we concentrate on looking after the rest of it.
“They tunnel and clear out soil so we have to be careful in managing them around historic burial mounds, and will see whether any of the material they dig out has any archaeological material.
“We have a protocol if this happens, and it has been used in other parts of the country, and that is to move the sett, but this is the last resort.”
Erosion to footpaths around monuments caused by large numbers of visitors over the decades is another problem which is being managed by the work undertaken by the National Park with funding from English Heritage.
With so many monuments in the area, management work has focused on those which make English Heritage’s ‘at-risk’ list. The list is updated annually and the latest document shows great signs of progress.
Ms Waughman said: “This year’s list has 75 scheduled monuments on but two years ago there were almost 200, so our work is having quite an impact.
“The current management scheme ends at the end of next March and our main target was to take 75 monuments off the monuments ‘at risk’ register.
“Beyond then we are thinking about where to go next and whether English Heritage can fund a further stage of the project.”