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Prehistoric Birkrigg Common is Revealed

Thanks to local volunteers, the pre-historic remains at Birkrigg Stone Circle, which had been on the Heritage at Risk Register since 2014, are safe once more. Bracken 'bashing' groups have cut back the bracken to reveal the prehistoric landscape.

Birkrigg common commands spectacular views over the whole of Morecambe Bay. It is no surprise that this place has attracted people for thousands of years, and evidence for prehistoric monuments and settlements can still be seen across the common. Or they could, until the last few decades when much of the common became overrun with bracken.

Birkrigg Stone Circle, Cumbria
Birkrigg Stone Circle, Cumbria © Historic England DP174674

Bracken bashing

Bracken was once harvested and used for a whole host of domestic and agricultural products, but fell out of use from the mid-20th century. Not only does bracken growth in summer obscure archaeological sites, the root system (called rhizomes) can also cause disturbance to below-ground archaeological remains. To tackle this issue on Birkrigg, the Morecambe Bay Partnership's Headlands to Headspace (H2H) project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, set up bracken 'bashing' groups to cut back the bracken and reveal the prehistoric landscape.

H2H Natural Heritage Officers with a scythe (left) and slasher (right) which would have been used to cut bracken in the past.
H2H Natural Heritage Officers with a scythe (left) and slasher (right) which would have been used to cut bracken in the past © Historic England

Once the bracken had been harvested, there was the issue of what to do with it. H2H volunteers were able to provide Incredible Edible at Ulverston with high quality mulch to help this thriving social enterprise scheme grow its own produce.

Morecambe Bay bracken ‘bashers’ pose in front of the Stone Circle on Birkrigg Common
Morecambe Bay bracken ‘bashers’ in front of the Stone Circle on Birkrigg Common © Historic England

Monuments revealed

Following bracken clearance at the stone circle, many local residents could not believe that there was a second ring of stones as they had been hidden for many years by the bracken.

The monument dates to the Bronze Age and is up to 4,000 years old. It is of national importance as one of only 15 concentric (double ring) stone circles known in Britain. Other Bronze Age sites on the common now free of bracken include a hut circle settlement with associated bowl barrow burial monument and a large burial cairn that was excavated in 1912 and found to contain the remains of three burials belonging to an adult, young person and a child.

Laser scan survey of the Birkrigg prehistoric enclosure now free from bracken
Laser scan survey of the prehistoric enclosure now free from bracken © Morecambe Bay Partnership
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