Natural England - Moor House - Upper Teesdale: history and geology

Moor House - Upper Teesdale: history and geology

Sedimentary layers of limestone, sandstone and shale bedrocks formed 340 million years ago when this area lay under shallow tropical seas.

Looking at peat core © Natural England

295 million years ago, molten magma from the earth’s mantle intruded into the limestone and solidified to form quartz dolerite, known as the ‘Great Whin Sill’. As it pushed through, the magma baked the surrounding limestone to form ‘Sugar Limestone’, a special type of rock which weathers to form coarse thin soil where the rare arctic alpine plants grow.

During the last Ice Age this whole area was covered in ice, which has shaped the landscape we see today. Arctic alpine plants such as the spring gentian colonised the area when the ice melted and have survived here ever since.

Later on the first settlers arrived - remains of bronze age settlements, Romano-British farmsteads and medieval ironworking industry can all be seen around the Holwick area.

Millions of years ago, hot liquid from deep sedimentary basins was pushed up towards the earth’s surface. As it cooled it deposited minerals into natural rock cavities, forming rich mineral veins, including galena (lead ore) and barytes (barium sulphate). In the 1830s and 1840s the area was a hive of activity, when the North Pennine ore-field was one of the most productive lead mining areas in the world – the pattern of small farms, spoil heaps, mine shafts and levels that we can see today all date from this time.

Working together

The landscape of today is largely a result of traditional upland farming and heather moorland management. Work on the reserve is an active partnership between Natural England, Raby and Strathmore estates and the local farming community. Special conservation measures include recovery programmes for juniper woodland, black grouse and yellow marsh saxifrage.

The landscape will not stay as we see it forever – climate change is a big challenge to the habitats, plants and animals of the high Pennines, as well as the people who live and work here. Whilst we don’t know exactly what is in store for us, the Reserve has a role to play – weather recording and research into the effects of climate change on the uplands has been going on at Moor House since 1932.

This long history of scientific research means the reserve is the best understood upland site in the world. Today, scientists from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology are investigating the effects of a changing climate on upland plant and animal communities.

The peatbogs of the North Pennine uplands are a valuable carbon store, and a great deal of work is being done to help preserve them – blocking drains or ‘grips’ to stop peat erosion and help slow down climate change.

For more information on climate change research at Moor House-Upper Teesdale and elsewhere, visit the UK Environmental Change Network websiteexternal link.