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Fylingdales Moor

Between 17 and 21 September 2003 a wild fire raged across Fylingdales Moor, North Yorkshire. It devastated the vegetation and fragile peat soils of 2.4 square kilometres of heather moorland. However, in the process the fire uncovered an archaeological landscape largely hidden by the heather for decades. Features revealed included prehistoric field systems and rock art, a network of leats associated with the Stoupe Brow alum quarry, and many earthworks left over from military training during the Second World War.

Colour aerial photograph showing the moorland, largley burnt in the foreground, but healthy in the background
A view of the badly damaged moor taken two weeks after the fire on 03-OCT-2003 (NMR 17947/01) © Historic England

The project

The project was a collaboration between partners, including the North York Moors National Park Authority, English Nature, DEFRA, English Heritage, The Strickland Estate and the Court Leet

A series of oblique air photographs were taken by the English Heritage Aerial Reconnaissance team just a few weeks after the fire. These helped to give a rapid overview of the extent and nature of the archaeological remains. A major concern was that the approaching winter weather would further damage the exposed monuments and soils. It was also clear that the moor would need to be re-vegetated as quickly as possible in order to safeguard its condition. These factors limited the time available to record the archaeology so high quality vertical photographs were specially commissioned.

Colour aerial photograph showing burnt moorland with a mound of paler stones surrounded by a stone bank
One of Robin Hood’s Butts round barrows photographed on 04-NOV-2004. The image clearly shows the exposed stones making up the cairn and enclosure against the blackened moor (NMR 20175/15). © Historic England

3D mapping

The vertical sortie was undertaken by Aerofilms on 23 November at a scale of 1:2,500. The level of detail on the photographs is good enough to identify stones as small as 10 centimetres in diameter. An orthophoto was produced by the English Heritage Metric Survey team – now Historic England’s Geospatial Imaging team  – using digital photogrammetry. This covered the whole of the burnt area and had an accuracy of 4 centimetres. The orthophoto formed a base map which underpinned other survey work. This included a rapid walkover field survey across the entire burnt area and a more detailed, analytical field survey of a select area. A 3D map of the archaeology was created by the Aerial Survey team using the photogrammetric 3D stereo models.

Colour image showing the various elements mapped from the APs in different colours
A map showing the various features visible on the aerial photographs. © Historic England


Regeneration of vegetation to protect the fragile moorland and its archaeology was well underway by 2004. Since then, native species have been recovering and the heather has now returned.

The image below shows how regeneration has progressed. The main image taken in November 2004 shows green vegetation on the recovering moor. A smaller image is overlain on the photo and shows part of the fire damaged moor a year earlier in October 2003.

Colour aerial photograph composite image showing the moor before (inset) and after the fire.
Composite image showing the moor before and after the fire. Main image taken on 04-NOV-2004 (NMR 20178/20); smaller inset taken on 03-OCT-2003 (NMR 17947/04). © Historic England

Results from the aerial investigation of the moor can be found in Stone and Horne, Aerial Survey Report Series AER/07/2003 available from the Historic England Archive.

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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