Nearly 100 individual projects make up the Land of Iron programme, including everything from the careful conservation of calcining kilns at Rosedale to the removal of barriers to fish migration on the River Esk. We are working across the North York Moors to deliver this invigorating schedule of improvements for the ironstone heritage and landscapes within the project area.
To read more about what we are up to click on the sections below or scroll down:
This is just a taste of the projects that the Land of Iron team are carrying out.
Within a landscape of breath-taking panoramic views the whole story of ironstone mining can be found - mining the stone from the hillside, processing it in huge roasting kilns, and transporting the ore for miles across the moors.
Bank Top Kilns
The area around Chimney Bank was the first part of Rosedale to experience the explosion of modern ironstone mining. Work began in 1856 and the initial mining was easy pickings as the ironstone stood out from the hillside as a cliff outcrop. Local legend says that during thunderstorms lightning would often strike the cliff and people talked of the devil or treasure buried in the hill.
Bank Top kilns were built to refine the ironstone through a process called ‘calcining’ – burning the ore with coal to reduce its weight by up to half and remove impurities. This meant much more efficient transport costs in getting to the ore to where it would be smelted into iron – first around Durham and later Teesside.
The project has carried out physical conservation works on the kilns, preserving them in their current state and preventing further deterioration. The work involved pointing and reinforcing the walls and joints, with the top of the kilns protected from weather damage by ‘soft capping’ with turf. New and innovative interpretation places the Bank Top kilns within their historic and natural environment.
Once mining was underway in Rosedale large ironstone deposits were soon discovered on the east side of the valley too and extraction began here in 1860. The initial resources were plentiful, in seams up to 14ft thick, but the quality soon deteriorated and after several stops and starts mining finally left here, and all of Rosedale, in 1926. By then, around 11 million tonnes of ironstone had been taken from the valley and used in construction projects around the world.
Relics of the entire mining and refining process and the communities that worked there still remain at East kilns. Two monumental sets of calcining kilns can be seen for miles from across the valley. A chimney stands high on the moor and near derelict cottages at High Baring show that this was once a bustling centre of industry with several hundred people working and living on the hillside.
Work here included consolidating the stone and brickwork of the North Kilns (known as the Iron Kilns) at Rosedale East to minimise further deterioration. This has conserved the existing masonry and will help prevent further decay to the brickwork. This restores the historic importance of the site, making it a popular point of interest for the public on the Rosedale walk. A brand-new on site interpretation feature illustrates what the kilns and area looked like when in full operation.
To transport ironstone from the remote Rosedale East kilns to the blast furnaces of northern England, a 12-mile railway was constructed, largely by hand, across the high moorland plateau and then down a 1 in 5 gradient at Ingleby Incline. A constant stream of wagons loaded with ironstone travelled out while coal and supplies were brought in to feed the kilns. But by 1929 the mines and calcining kilns had closed, crippled by overseas competition, economic difficulties and a reduction in the quality of ironstone at hand. The railway was taken up for salvage and the valley fell silent again.
In the 90 years since its closure the track-bed and tramways can still be seen in the landscape, cutting across the valley sides, and has now become home to a valuable mix of habitats and species. The track-bed is now a popular walking route, providing reasonably gentle gradients with stunning views across Rosedale valley and access to see the iconic remains of the ironstone industry. The project undertook much-needed path repair and drainage improvement works to the northern end of the Rosedale Railway, from Blakey Ridge to Reeking Gill. The works have also helped to prevent further degradation of this important route and historical feature.
Hay Meadows and Daffodils
Rosedale contains some of the best remaining upland hay meadows in the North York Moors, a legacy of traditional agricultural practices that are at risk of being lost through changes to land management. The wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus), the only daffodil native to Britain, is also found throughout the valley, providing a cheerful welcome to spring every year.
The project has worked with farmers and land managers to sustain, restore and improve these valuable habitats for people and wildlife to enjoy. Walks and trails through the area highlight the best places and times of year to see the fascinating flowers and the animals that benefit from this work.
One particular bird that has found a home around Rosedale is the ring ouzel (Turdus torquatus). This attractive summer visitor looks similar to a blackbird but has a striking white chest. It migrates here from North Africa in spring and nests in the heather and rock outcrops left from the mines and quarries, before returning in autumn.
The ring ouzel chooses Rosedale for nesting and rearing its young because of the varied mix of feeding and habitat provided by the mining remains and the current management of the valley for grazing and the moors for grouse. It is a critically endangered species, with the 2014 population in Rosedale estimated at just 21 breeding pairs.
The project has worked closely with local volunteers who have been monitoring ring ouzels across the North York Moors since 1999. Cameras have been installed near nesting sites to monitor predation and bird behaviour and rowan trees, a valuable food source for the birds, have planted at specially selected sites in Rosedale to encourage the ring ouzel population.
Scattered throughout the Esk Valley are a myriad of mining and industrial heritage features, although most are hidden from view beneath trees and nature that has reclaimed these spaces since the industry left. Exploring this charming area can be great fun using the Rail Trail, North Yorkshire Moors Railway and Esk Valley Railway. You may even be lucky enough to see salmon and trout leaping up the River Esk to their spawning grounds.
The green and leafy National Park car park in Grosmont was once the site of Grosmont Ironworks – a major industrial complex producing nearly 1,000 tonnes of pig iron a week. Many ironstone mines surrounded the site to feed the 3 furnaces, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A nearby brickworks also operated between 1870 and 1957, producing thousands of quality bricks and many beautiful handcrafted ‘specials’.
The piles of slag and waste that the ironworks produced were enormous, estimated at around 1 million tonnes, and blighted this now-picturesque village for a long time. Although the furnaces ceased operation in 1891 it took another 50 years for all the slag to be removed, much of it recycled for use in road building. The ground conditions left from the industrial exploitation have helped encourage a variety of unusual and attractive plants to colonise the site, such as twayblade and sickle medick.
Esk Valley Mine
Hidden at the edge of a field alongside the Grosmont-Goathland Rail Trail is the site of Esk Valley mine, also known as Holme House Mine. This relatively small scale operation is a good example of a Victorian vision to create a self-sustaining community around an industrial facility. Two terraces of miner’s cottages, a mine manager’s house, small chapel and group of craftsmen’s houses can all still be seen today.
Esk Valley was a deep mine where a shaft was dug 60m straight down to the ironstone seam and the ore hauled up using a steam engine. The remains of the engine base and boiler supports can still be seen alongside the mine shaft.
The project has made the site safe with a metal grill placed over the shaft and repairs to the stonework surround. A new path from the Rail Trail will be installed to enable public access to this site for the first time in late summer 2020. Interpretation is helping to tell the story of the mine, its workings, and the community that was built around it. Please note that at this site there is very limited parking and we would encourage all visitors, where able, to walk to the site using the Rail Trail route.
Beck Hole Ironworks
Further along the Rail Trail towards Goathland in fields alongside the track lies the site of Beck Hole Ironworks and mines, opened in 1859. In the peace and tranquillity of Beck Hole today it can be hard to imagine the fire, smoke and noise of the industry. Despite grand ambitions highlighted in the Whitby Gazette of 1860, the mining here was short-lived with the workings and associated cottages demolished within 30 years of being built.
The Rail Trail is a 3½ mile walk from Goathland to Grosmont following the route of George Stephenson’s original railway line of 1836. It can be combined with a trip on the steam trains of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway between Grosmont and Goathland to complete the loop.
The project has carried out surveys of the original railway bridges that now carry the Rail Trail to detail future conservation work needed to maintain this popular walking route. It has also provided interpretation along the route of the mining and industrial heritage features that can be found, including Goathland incline that once hauled goods and passengers up the 1 in 15 gradient using a system of gravity-fed water tankers on ropes and cables.
PAWS (Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites) are areas that have been wooded for at least the last 400 years but recently have been planted with mainly conifers for timber production. This dramatically reduces their wildlife value, although some of this value remains for several years before being lost forever, for example in the seed bank. The idea behind PAWS restoration is to sensitively turn plantations back to native broadleaf woodland, nurturing this residual wildlife value back into our landscape.
There are many areas of PAWS across the Land of Iron area and the project is actively working with land managers to restore these by thinning conifers, allowing natural regeneration and planting native trees. Ancient woodland is a scarce and precious habitat, supporting some of Britain’s rarest species and connecting us to our ancestors who lived in the original wildwood that covered most of the country after the last ice age.
The water vole (Arvicola amphibious) is the UK’s fastest declining mammal, with numbers dropping continuously since the 1950s. This decline is mainly due to loss and fragmentation of bankside vegetation, alterations to river management, and the spread of American mink, a predator of the water vole.
The North York Moors has small but valuable populations of water vole in the upper catchments of the Esk, Murk Esk and Leven. Volunteers have been surveying these populations for the last 15 years and have seen declines similar to those seen across the country.
The project is developed land management agreements with farmers and landowners across the catchment area to restore vegetated riverbank corridors, installed riverside fencing and constructed backwaters ponds – all helping to link fragmented populations and hopefully reverse the population decline.
The 28 mile course of the River Esk is home to significant populations of Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) and Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) at the start and end of their life cycles. These fish hatch and spend their first few years of life in the river before leaving to travel hundreds of miles to their Atlantic feeding grounds, only then to return to the very same river to breed as mature adults.
This remarkable life cycle is linked to the equally remarkable life cycle of other creatures such as the rare freshwater pearl mussel. These incredible invertebrates can live for over 100 years and the population in the River Esk are the last surviving population in the whole of Yorkshire. However, the majority of these individuals are over 60 years old and have not produced young for 25 years, so are at risk of extinction in the next 40 years.
Barriers to fish migration along the river at Glaisdale Ford have been removed or reduced through physical changes to these man-made structures. A healthy river with clean sand and gravel is also essential for a healthy fish and mussel population so land management work to improve water quality has also been carried out, such as reducing run-off and enhancing the riverside environment.
The Cleveland Hills themselves have a rich ironstone heritage but for this project they mark the point where transport networks converged at Battersby Junction and the ironstone from Rosedale Railway left the moors and dropped down into Cleveland via Ingleby Incline which, along with the ill-fated Warren Moor Mine, marks the boundary of the project.
Warren Moor Mine
Tucked away in a remote valley below the Cleveland Hills is Warren Moor Mine, a remarkably well preserved complex of mine shafts, boiler and pump houses, railway lines and a huge square chimney of elaborate design. The first sight of the chimney as it comes into view in the valley never fails to surprise and impress.
Part of the reason Warren Moor Mine is so well preserved is the unsuccessful nature of the mining ventures here – two different companies attempted to operate the mine between 1866 and 1874 but neither were successful, ending in bankruptcy and abandonment of the workings.
The extensive nature of the industrial complex here offers great educational opportunities to demonstrate the techniques and principles of mining. The project has made the site safe for public access, conserved and protected the remaining structures, and installed interpretation about the mine and its workings. The Land of Iron have led community archaeological excavations at Warren Moor Mine, helping to train volunteers in industrial archaeology how to survey, excavate and record these exciting and remote ruins.
The dramatic Ingleby Incline marks the point where the railway carrying the ironstone from Rosedale left the moors and dropped down into Cleveland at a gradient of up to 1 in 5. Loaded wagons attached to steel ropes nearly a mile long and wrapped around a large brake drum were lowered down the slope, pulling empty wagons up the hill at the same time.
Despite the careful operation of the incline accidents did occur. Walking or cycling up the slope today one can imagine the catastrophic speed these loaded wagons would have achieved if they broke free from the ropes and brake drum and careered down the hill.
Ingleby Incline offers a great deal to the visitor – stunning views across the Cleveland plain to Teesside and beyond, a place to marvel at our ancestors’ engineering confidence and prowess, a chance to test one’s fitness or brakes on the steep climb, and an excellent part of a network of footpaths and bridleways linking the Cleveland Way, North York Moors and surrounding countryside. The project has installed intriguing interpretation to make sense of the jumbled industrial remains along the incline and give an idea what it would have looked like in operation.
Mine Water Discharge Mitigation
Water running out of old mines can sometimes contain high levels of impurities that present a potentially harmful legacy of the mining industry. Little thought was historically given to what happened after the mines closed, ownership can have transferred hands several times and mines were often abandoned in a haphazard manner.
The mine water and resulting thick sediment is often bright orange in colour and easy to spot in the landscape. Whilst not exactly toxic in itself the water contains high levels of dissolved iron that reduces the oxygen levels in watercourses, thereby smothering invertebrates and reducing the food available to fish.
As part of the development of the Land of Iron project over 80 sites throughout the North York Moors were identified as potential issues for mine water discharge and mitigation trials were undertaken at 2 of these sites. Mitigation measures included reed beds, retention pools and sluices to remove iron before it reaches watercourses downstream. Early results show good improvements to water quality and so these works have been rolled out to other sites across the area as part of the project, including Rosedale.
The North York Moors contain a myriad of special wildlife sites of local, national and international importance. As in many parts of the UK, these areas are becoming increasingly fragmented, leading to greater fragility of the wildlife populations that survive within them. The management of land is a hot topic within the UK today, with a balance needing to be achieved between agricultural productivity, community requirements, economic development and the integrity of wildlife networks.
In modern Britain, wildlife reserves and sites of high biodiversity are often islands floating within a sea of agricultural improvement and urbanisation. Without wildlife friendly corridors between these sites, wildlife will find it difficult, or sometimes impossible, to move between islands, meaning that local species are trapped within these site and are vulnerable to any local impacts such as disease or extreme weather, as well as wider impacts such as climate change.
The key objective of the Land of Iron biodiversity projects is to reconnect these islands, working with land managers to establish a network of wildlife friendly spaces, within which biodiversity can flourish but which also allow wildlife populations to disperse between established sites or colonise new areas.
Measures taken can be many or varied, and depend largely on the specific holding and the needs of the local area. For example, excluding stock from water courses including provision of alternative drinking sites can have huge environmental benefits by reducing siltation and soiling of streams which improves water quality for local communities, fish stocks and aquatic wildlife, whilst also protecting livestock welfare, reducing bank erosion and creating a diverse riparian strip that looks attractive to communities and park visitors.
Many traditional land management tools, for example thick maintained hedgerows, provide excellent wildlife habitat whilst also providing a real benefit for the land manager for controlling livestock, and also benefit the wider landscape and the views of local communities and visitors.
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