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North Pennines AONB NMP

Location of North Pennines AONB project.Highlights of the air survey element of the ‘Miner-Farmer landscapes of the North Pennines AONB’ project are discussed below. The diversity of newly discovered archaeological features mapped by the air survey has proven that this area of the North Pennines has been a poorly understood and hugely under recorded landscape. 

A view of the market town of Alston photographed on 10-SEP-2007. © English Heritage. NMR

A view of the market town of Alston photographed on 10-SEP-2007. The larger parish of Alston Moor has been the focus of recent archaeological and architectural study (NMR 20678/06).
© English Heritage. NMR

The Project

To help increase our knowledge of the historic environment, and identify priorities for preserving this legacy for future generations, English Heritage’s Heritage Protection Department has conducted a multi-disciplinary programme of archaeological and architectural research and fieldwork on Alston Moor in collaboration with the North Pennines AONB. The majority of this research focuses on the ‘core’ area (circa 50km2) encompassing the river valleys of the Nent and South Tyne.

The aerial survey element of this research, which fed into the National Mapping Programme (NMP), focused on the parish of Alston Moor (300km2) and aimed to provide a landscape context to this collaborative study.

25cm resolution orthophotography and 50cm resolution lidar for an area of lead mining. © English Heritage

A comparison between 25cm resolution orthophotography and 50cm resolution lidar for an area of lead mining reveals the benefit of a multi-source approach to air survey mapping.
© English Heritage

Mapping Sources

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

In anticipation of the commencement of the Miner-Farmer project additional oblique photography was carried out in 2007 by English Heritage, further enhancing the NMR’s air photo collection for this area. Orthophotography supplied via the pan-governmental agreement (effectively the photography available via Google Earth) was routinely consulted and provided an accurate baseline for mapping outside of the core area.

Additional aerial sources were also commissioned, specifically 25cm resolution orthophotography and 50cm resolution lidar for the project’s core area. 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 by providing 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 via the lidar data.

The detail and accuracy provided by the commissioned imagery has allowed for greater accuracy in the location and interpretation of archaeological features, when compared to traditional photography alone. In essence, the air survey mapping can be described as an enhanced NMP project for the areas covered by these sources.

Extensive post medieval lead mining and coal workings photographed on 10-SEP-2007. © English Heritage. NMR

Photography taken on 10-SEP-2007 shows extensive post medieval coal workings lying in a band above the road. Lead mining is located above the coal workings (NMR 20679/48).
© English Heritage. NMR


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 and have had a significant impact on the landscape.

The 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, in part, be due to the difficulty in identifying these early mining remains from their morphology alone, though, the obliteration of these features as a consequence of large-scale  post medieval mining cannot be ruled out.

Settlements and field systems situated on the lower valley slopes of the River Nent and South Tyne. © English Heritage

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.
© English Heritage


An unexpected result of the air survey was the discovery of a large number of later prehistoric and Romano-British settlements and field systems still 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, interpreted as ‘head dykes’ which 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. This has enhanced the results from the air survey mapping and increased out understanding of the evolution of both the settlements and the larger landscape.

The images used on this page are copyright English Heritage 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 English Heritage archive.

For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Aerial Survey team please contact  us via email using the link above.


Aerial Investigation and Mapping - York
Heritage Protection Department