The History and Natural History of the Dales account
The History and Natural History of the Dales – 28th October, 2014
A large audience was packed into Christ Church Sanctuary to hear zoo-archaeologist Professor Terry O’Connor’s talk, The History and Natural History of the Dales. It was a mind-expanding evening, covering many millennia and distilling research from several disciplines. We learned how our familiar limestone landscape was shaped as temperatures rose and fell, and how this determined the animal populations that lived here as they moved in, prospered, struggled, moved out and were replaced. Preconceptions were certainly challenged.
Our Dale was at the edge of the great ice sheet, where it was most active, with melt and re-freeze leaving such clear marks on the topography – drumlins, erratics, U-shaped valleys formed by great rivers of melt-water. The ice retreated but was succeeded by intense dry cold. It was millennia before animals returned. Evidence from scree-sealed caves in the limestone cliffs revealed prey (deer, horses, lemmings) and predators (wolves, wildcat and lynx). Then, cut marks on bones indicated the arrival of people with their stone tools. Our ancestors may have arrived on the scene late, but by the Neolithic they certainly left their mark on the landscape – woodland clearance, field-patterns, henges, cairns, plough marks.
From the mediaeval period on sheep, rabbits and enclosure redesigned things rapidly. Those monasteries (Fountains and Bolton) have a lot to answer for- as sheep browsed off any incipient tree regeneration and rabbits out-competed older grazing species. They may even be responsible for a flourishing population of water voles being forced to live on water margins. But the jury’s still out on that one.
Image by David Castor (wikipedia user:dcastor).