Volunteers shore up crumbling ramparts of landmark Northumberland hillfort

A volunteer puts sandbags into place at Harehaugh Hillfort in Coquetdale.
A volunteer puts sandbags into place at Harehaugh Hillfort in Coquetdale.

Volunteers from Northumberland National Park have seen the culmination of many years of work as major conservation started this week to repair the crumbling ramparts of Harehaugh Hillfort in Coquetdale.

Harehaugh Hillfort was built by Iron Age people 2,500 years ago and the essential conservation work now underway will see the hillfort finally removed from the Heritage at Risk register.

Volunteers and contractors filling sandbags with organic soil.

Volunteers and contractors filling sandbags with organic soil.

The work to save the hillfort is a direct result of more than 20 years of research, excavation and monitoring by archaeologists from Newcastle University that has been funded by Northumberland National Park Authority, Historic England and Natural England.

National Park volunteers and staff have been helping to fill 2,000 sandbags with organic topsoil to restore the profile of the badly-eroded sections of rampart.

A layer of wire mesh will be laid over and across the sandbags and buried beneath a fresh layer of soil and organic grass seed to discourage burrowing animals from returning.

The repair work will utilise 60 tonnes of organic soil and the number of hessian sandbags used equals approximately one sandbag for each year of the hillfort’s life.

Chris Jones, historic environment officer for Northumberland National Park, said: “This is the biggest such repair project to any archaeological site of this type in the National Park. It is going ahead thanks to the positive attitude of the owner and funding through an Environmental Stewardship higher level scheme that builds on years of work from Historic England and the National Park Authority. Volunteers from the National Park Heritage at Risk group are trained to identify, assess and record damage to scheduled monuments and work extremely hard to protect this and other important archaeological sites in the National Park.”

The repairs are being funded by an Organic Higher Level Scheme and will take about three weeks to complete. Earlier preparatory work was funded by Historic England. Heritage Consolidation was awarded the contract to carry out the repairs having recently repaired parts of Hadrian’s Wall among other high profile conservation projects.

The site’s owner, Rachel Bogaart-Kessler, said: “As owners of Dueshill Farm we understand the high level of archaeological interest on the farm and we are delighted to be working with Historic England, Natural England and Northumberland National Park Authority to protect Harehaugh Hillfort for the future.”

Sara Rushton, heritage at risk project officer for Historic England, said: “Harehaugh Hillfort has been a Scheduled Monument at Risk for 20 years; these repairs are the result of many years of close working between Historic England, Northumberland National Park Authority and Natural England. Historic England is delighted to have been able to offer grant aid and expertise to see the removal of Harehaugh from the Heritage at Risk Register.”

Frances Fewster, lead adviser for Natural England’s Historic Environment, said: “Harehaugh Hillfort, through its physical remains, helps to provide evidence of how the Northumbrian landscape has been shaped over time. By protecting it in this way, we can ensure that our heritage is conserved. Our partnership with Northumberland National Park Authority and Historic England means that we have been able to safeguard the cultural and historic interest of the hillfort for many years to come.”

Richard Carlton, from Newcastle-based The Archaeological Practice Ltd, said: “Our research has found a complex archaeological monument of some importance both locally and nationally. The monitoring work we carried out over a ten year period has found that the erosion on the ramparts which has taken place over a long period of time is significantly impacting on the archaeological remains and that repairs were necessary to help the landowner to protect the monument.”