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North Pennines AONB NMP

The North Pennines AONB NMP was one part of the wider ‘Miner-Farmer landscapes of the North Pennines AONB ’ project. A diverse range of archaeological features were mapped by the air survey – many of these were new discoveries. The work has proven that this area of the North Pennines has been a poorly understood and hugely under recorded landscape.

Colour aerial photograph showing a village with regular fields in front and the moors rising behind
A view of the market town of Alston taken on 10-SEP-2007. The larger parish of Alston Moor has been the focus of recent archaeological and architectural study (NMR 20678/06) © Historic England

The project

English Heritage’s Heritage Protection Department (now part of Historic England) conducted a multi-disciplinary programme of archaeological and architectural research and fieldwork on Alston Moor. This was undertaken in collaboration with the North Pennines AONB.

It aimed to help increase our knowledge of the historic environment and identify priorities for preserving this legacy. The majority of this research focussed on the ‘core’ area of around 50 square kilometres encompassing the river valleys of the Nent and South Tyne.

The aerial survey element was undertaken to National Mapping Programme standards and mapped a wider 300 square kilometre area. It focused on the parish of Alston Moor and aimed to provide a landscape context to this collaborative study.

Colour illustration showing the area of the study against a digital terrain model of the landscape.
A digital terrain model of the survey area coloured from the lowest (blue) to highest (red) heights. Height Data - © Bluesky International/Getmapping PLC.

Mapping sources

Aerial Survey carried out to National Mapping Programme standards routinely consults the historic photograph archive stored at the Historic England Archive . For the North Pennines project area this included vertical photographs dating back to 1948 and a smaller number of oblique photographs.

Additional oblique photography was carried out in advance of the project by English Heritage, further enhancing the archive’s air photo collection for this area.

Orthophotography supplied via the Pan-Governmental Agreement – effectively the photography available via Google Earth – was routinely consulted. This provided an accurate baseline for mapping outside of the core area.

Additional aerial sources were also commissioned for the project’s core area – specifically 25 centimetre resolution orthophotography and 50 centimetre resolution lidar. The orthophotography was colour enhanced to highlight archaeological features and proved a key resource for the identification of lead mining remains.

Unquestionably it was lidar that proved the most useful source for interpretation of archaeological earthworks. It provided accurate location and height data - effectively creating a 3D model of Alston Moor. The majority of archaeological features recorded within the core area were identified this way.

The detail and accuracy of the commissioned imagery has allowed features to be interpreted and mapped with greater precision than traditional photography alone. In essence, the air survey mapping can be described as an enhanced NMP project for the areas covered by these sources.

Composite colour image of lidar data and orthophoto. Photo shows the purple-grey coloured lead mining waste against the moor
A comparison between orthophotography and lidar for an area of lead mining reveals the benefit of a multi-source approach to air survey mapping © Historic England


As anticipated, a substantial amount of the archaeological remains identified by the air survey relate to Alston Moor’s industrial past. Lead mining forms the principal industry, but evidence of coal workings, ironstone mining, quarrying and peat cutting are present. These industries have all had a significant impact on the landscape.

Post medieval lead mines within the parish of Alston Moor are vast, covering an extensive area of the uplands. The features vary in complexity from simple shafts and shaft mounds, to extensive working areas consisting of dams, hushes, leats, dressing floors, smelt mills etc.

It has not been possible to identify early lead mining from the air photography and lidar. This may be partially due to the difficulty in identifying these early mining remains from their form and pattern alone. It is also possible that large-scale post medieval mining may have obliterated these features.

Colour aerial photograph showing a mixed landscape with pasture fields to left and evidence of mining to right
Extensive post medieval coal workings lying in a band above the road photographed on 10-SEP-2007. Lead mining is located above the coal workings (NMR 20679/048) © Historic England


An unexpected result of the air survey was the discovery of many later prehistoric and Roman settlements and field systems surviving as earthworks. The majority of these settlement sites were previously totally unrecorded and represent a remarkable survival.

The settlements appear to focus on the lower slopes of the river valleys and form relatively extensive and contiguous system of settlements and field systems.

The settlements typically consist of an embanked enclosure with internal divisions and hut platforms. The upper limit of the habitable area appears to be defined in places by substantial boundary banks. These have been interpreted as ‘head dykes’ and are traceable for large distances across the landscape.

Due to the significance of these features within the landscape they were chosen for detailed analytical field survey, carried out by Archaeological Survey and Investigation (now Historic England’s Assessment team).

This has enhanced the results from the air survey mapping and increased our understanding of the evolution of the settlements and the wider landscape.

Lidar image showing river valley location of prehistoric and Romano-British settlement with red and green features overlain
Settlements and field systems situated on the lower valley slopes of the River Nent and South Tyne. The habitable area appears defined by a ‘head dyke’ visible for large distances. © Historic England


Interim results and key new findings have been published in Research News as the project progressed.

Research News Issue 11: Spring 2009

Research News Issue 11: Spring 2009

Published 24 April 2009

Research News highlights topical and investigative work being done in the Research Department

Research News Issue 15: Autumn 2010

Research News Issue 15: Autumn 2010

Published 15 December 2010

Research News highlights topical and investigative work being done in the Research Department

Research News Issue 16: Summer 2011

Research News Issue 16: Summer 2011

Published 19 August 2011

Research News highlights topical and investigative work being done in the search for greater knowledge of the historic environment

The key findings from the aerial survey elements of the project can be found in Alston Moor, North Pennines, Miner-Farmer landscapes of the North Pennines AONB NMP: Aerial Investigation and Mapping Report, which is available through the Research Reports database, where reports relating to other elements of the project can also be found.

The images used on this page are copyright Historic England unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project please contact the Historic England Archive.

For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Remote Sensing Team please contact us via email using the link below.

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Historic Places Investigation

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