Star Carr Stomping ground

This week I took an opportunity to check up on a once familiar site in Scarborough which I haven’t visited in some while. I wanted to see what condition the Star Carr field was in and this took me along the River Hertford to Star Carr and then up Meads Lane (Metes Lane on some maps) returning to civilisation via Crab Lane, Crossgates. Star Carr Lane and Crab Lane are both stops on the route of the Coastliner buses which I take four days a week to work, so this is a detour I have been itching to make for many months.

River Hertford or The New Cut was dug in 1801 to straighten the river and speed its flow.
The lush growth of water weed has traditionally been pulled out of the channel in later summer
Farmers need the water levels to be lowered in order to safely harvest low lying fields.

The Hertford, also called the New Cut, was flowing quite well, unusual for harvest time, as this river is reknowned for its summer growth of weed, specifically flote grass. This aquatic grass, Glyceria fluitans annually chokes the watercourse and holds back the flow sufficiently to raise the level of the river by several feet. This coincides with harvest time when farmers on The Carrs are needing to travel on the fields with heavy machinery. An elevated water table – the natural consequence of higher river levels backing up in the arterial drainage ditches is at this time a concern for farmers. If the water table is too high the soft peaty soils may not support the heavy trailers and tractors, combine harvesters or potato lifting machinery. It is no coincidence I think, that most of the low-lying fields in the Star Carr area are now pasture, as arable cropping could be a risky affair some years.

On this occasion it was evident that a weed-cutting operation had been carried out quite recently, by the IDB, (the Internal Drainage Board which manages this watercourse and the ditch network of the Vale of Pickering). They send a large tracked excavator /digger along the river bank – a ‘360’; with a rotating cab and a long reach arm, so that the weed bucket – a specially designed digger bucket with slots in the base, can scoop and cut weed growth from the river channel.

The offending waterweed can be seen mounded at intervals on the bank, permitting aquatic life to find its way back into the river as the weed dries and naturally composts on the side.

Star Carr footbridge carries a little used footpath across the Hertford
The footpath towards Flixton village passes close by the Stone Age settlement site of Star Carr
Star Carr ‘field’, now under permanent pasture was once used for arable cropping

The Star Carr field I was visiting, still in Council ownership from the days of the Carrs Wetland Project, but in the care of a local farmer, was in good condition. Clearly it is still being managed as permanent pasture in keeping with the stewardship agreement which was in force until 2016. The area is important for its below ground heritage -being once contiguous with the Star Carr scheduled monument site across the river, a famous Mesolithic site extensively studied and interpreted by archaeologists over many decades. The council field is now kept in grass to protect the archaeology (it was formerly an arable field). Today there is some interesting topography evident in the field which marks the edge of the ancient wetland Lake Flixton and the dry land peninsula upon which Star Carr settlers lived 11,000 years ago.

The area of flat ground east of Star Carr is called Seamer Meads, the centre of the palaeolake and where consequently the deepest peat deposits have accumulated -up to 8m in parts. The old trackway that leads north to Crossgates and Seamer is called Meads Lane and as it links up with the footpath from Flixton it’s a fair assumption this follows an ancient north-south route across The Carrs. These days the A64 carries traffic across a ridge of gravelly ground to the west and few people walk the route over a Star Carr, which is a shame.

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