Sites of Special Scientific Interest are notified by English Nature because of their plants, animals or geological or physiographical features. Most SSSIs are privately owned or managed. About 40% are owned or managed by public bodies such as the Forestry Commission, Ministry of Defence and The Crown Estate, or by the voluntary conservation movement. SSSIs cover approximately 7% of England's total area. English Nature liaises with about 23,000 owners and occupiers on these sites. Casterton Fell area is owned by the Bowring family.
SSSIs are notified under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, in recognition of their special biological and/or geological interest, having been selected according to rigorous and published guidelines. Together they comprise a nationally important series of areas representing all that is best in England's natural heritage. Yet they do not stand alone -they are part of the characteristic natural areas that are England's countryside and they depend on how the remaining countryside is cared for by our society.
The Leck Beck Head Catchment S.S.S.I. is located on the Cumbria-Lancashire border. The site extends from Aygill in the North for some 6 kms southwards to the North Yorkshire County boundary on Ireby Fell and comprises an area which is not only of outstanding geological importance but which also includes areas of major biological interest. See Science Page.
The site comprises several long cave systems and their catchment areas all of which converge on the major karst spring of Leck Beck Head. The caves exhibit a wide range of features of interest, including a number of passages which lie well above the present water table. These formed during successive stages (Devensian and Ipswichian) of the last Ice Age and provide important evidence of landform development during that period.The scale and variety of the caves make this a most important site for the study of surface and underground landform development over a long period of the recent past. The speleothems and sediments in the system are of special merit. Both are of a delicate nature and offer the opportunity for dating and interpretation of cave evolution and once damaged neither can be recreated. See page on Damage to Formations
Most of the biological interest of the site is concentrated around various physical features associated with the underlying Carboniferous Limestone, such as pavements, cliffs, potholes and gorges. Ease Gill is one of the principal locations and represents a unique feature for Cumbria and Lancashire. It comprises of a series of steep limestone cliffs and associated scree which support a wide range of rare plants such as rigid buckler fern and limestone polypody. Downstream the gill becomes a deep wooded gorge with associated rich calcareous woodland flora, such as wood forget-me-not, hairy rock cress and eleven species of fern.
Elsewhere the various outcrops of limestone in the form of pavement, low ridges, scree and scattered stone support a wide range of limestone plants. The steep rocky sides of the numerous potholes provide ungrazed conditions in which calcareous woodland floras have developed
Graham Proudlove at UMIST runs a cave biology email discussion group for cave biology. Contact the website below for more details. BCRA Cave Biology
The Red Rose Cave and Pothole Club has been closely involved with the cave system since its discovery in 1946. The cave system has been adopted under the Descent Adopt-a-Cave scheme by the Club. For many years, Descent has been running the "ADOPT-A-CAVE" scheme. Nobody likes to go into a cave only to find dumped carbide, chocolate wrappers or anything else that shouldn't be there. Do you walk past, blind and insensitive? Do you stop and pick it up? Surely you don't add to it? In 1977 Descent began a scheme to help acknowledge, promote and encourage the work done by individuals and clubs in looking after their favourite caves.
The Red Rose have a annual clean up meet in the cave system. In recent years rubbish has been removed from the cave, formations have been taped off to prevent damage from careless visitors and stalagmites have been cleaned. The use of carbide in the system is discouraged as this prevents dumping of spent carbide.
The rubbish collected on one Ease Gill Caverns 'Cleanup' weekend.
In recent years footpath erosion has become a problem with the increase in visitors to the system. Again the Red Rose has taken steps to prevent or reduce the risks of footpath erosion by carrying our remedial work and re-routing paths and draining boggy areas of the heather moorland below which much of the cave is located. Fences and stiles have also been repaired. Access signs have been placed on the fells and these should be followed at all times.
Bats have been see in the cave system and a number of entrances have been provided with stock proof lids which still allow bats to use the caves. The Red Rose has a Conservation Officer:
To the Caves on Leck & Casterton Fells is controlled by Council of Northern Caving Clubs.
British Cave Research Association
United Kingdom Cave Conservation Emergency Fund
Cave Surveying Group
BCA has a Conservation Officer and Policy.www.bca.org.uk/
The Council of Northern Caving Clubs (CNCC) also has a Conservation Officer. They control access to many caves in the Yorkshire Dales area and encourage cave conservation.For further information about the CNCC contact::
Les Sykes, 49 Manfield, Ashurst, Skelmersdale, Lancs, WN8 6SYU
Tel: 01695 728673, firstname.lastname@example.org