The variety of threats to the condition and existence of the caves is discussed. The different circumstances and the different needs of this area are discussed by comparison to other regions. The broad conclusion is that the area is in its speleological infancy and therefore it is important that attention is drawn to the caves that have been discovered and to their significance. Problems of over-use do not tend to occur in this area; it is the caves very existence that is under the greatest threat.
In keeping with the articles on these caves in Newsletters 85, 86, 87 and 88 of the Derbyshire Caving Association, the areas are referred to under the same section headings. Although less familiar with Sunderland and Harrogate areas, I am constantly being informed of the similarities with the other five. Unlike most other caving regions which tend to fall in, or in close proximity to National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, much of this area is afforded no similar protection. It is a very large area and a rare example of where more caving interest might help by making non-cavers aware of the caves presence and significance. The sheer size of the area and the relatively low number of discoveries makes it difficult anticipating threats to known caves, let alone those not yet found. Add to this the complication that many of the caves would not have been discovered had it not been for quarrying, then the grey politics of the area start to surface.
Some of the best discoveries have been as a direct result of quarrying, and yet the threat of quarrying still hangs over many. The classic example of this is Smeaton Pot, which was intersected by quarrying and is currently in the process of being destroyed. The owners, however, have been more than willing to allow cavers to visit. They even argue that they may well open up more cave than currently exists. To antagonise the owner over the destruction of Smeaton Pot could result in a loss of access to what will remain of this cave, Went Edge Rift and any other sites opened by the present activities. Outright objections should possibly be limited to any proposed new and threatening developments. Existing quarries continuing or reopening need considering on their individual merits, with consideration not only being being given to potential damage, but also to future access. monitoring. recording etc..
In the past more cave has been lost to landfill than by direct quarrying. Objections to landfill proposals do not seem too difficult to raise in the area. Support is generally forthcoming from other interests, although there are exceptions. High Cave at Conisbrough and associated caves were lost this way, with a host of others. There may be some future in lodging an interest in these "lost" sites with the Local Planning Authority so that our interests may be considered in any future development schemes. The way forward does seem to be in making these Authorities aware of our interests in both general and specific terms.
Damage by Over-use
To date I am not aware of any of the sites, particularly south of the M62,having suffered from over-caving. Over-use of a different kind does manifest itself in the form of non-cavers, youngsters, the general public etc., as commented on in the DCA articles. Flat Roof Cave and School Cave are examples of caves being taken over by gangs of youths, with resultant graffiti, soot damage etc.. I cannot comment on the effect that the public has had on Marsden Grotto and Mother Shiptons Cave, as I am not familiar with those particular sites, however, the comments in the articles give some indication of the modifications. More use, rather than less, by cavers is more beneficial in the majority of cases. It would demonstrate speleological interest in the area.
Some of the caves are particularly well decorated, for example Went Edge Rift and Smeaton Pot. In Smeaton Pot some formations have to be negotiated and are potentially at risk, but the majority would still remain inaccessible in the rifts. This seems minor at the moment, compared to the quarrying threat, but is at least being monitored and recorded.
Many of the sites are of archaeological interest and digging is a sensitive subject, particularly in the entrances and twilight zones. Cresswell Caves have been developed with some of these their interests in mind. Showing a speleological interest here, and exchanging information, is easing the access situation for cavers.
Very few of the caves, if any, require the taping-off of formations. There may be cases for taping or restricting access to areas of sedimentary infill. There may also be a case for the inclusion of these sensitive areas on cave surveys. Restricting access has been tried in a big way at Cresswell and to a lesser extent with the gating of Herne Hill Cave 1 at Maltby. There are also the access procedures in force at Smeaton Pot and Went Edge Rift. In all except the caves at Cresswell, the restrictions have been as much for the safety of prospective visitors as for the conservation of the site. The major concerns are all as described in the Cave Conservation Policy as "External threats". Planning Authorities need to be notified again of our interest in the area, and of specific sites. They need to be physically shown some of the sites, if necessary, and have their importance explained. The least we should be able to provide them with is a copy of any relevant sections of the Cave Conservation Policy and details of caves registered in their areas. Conservation Plans may need to be produced in accordance with the Policy for such caves as Went Edge Rift, Herne Hill etc.. There also needs to be some liaison between CNCC and DCA over conservation in the area, particularly in the area overlapping from the M62 south to Maltby. via Conisbrough.