Crackpot Cave Cleanup

16 April 2019

In January, the CNCC learned that Crackpot Cave in Swaledale was a little worse for wear due to decades of visitors from some less cave-conservation enlightened times. One of our Conservation volunteers, Rowan Worsman, took it upon herself to see something done about this.

Watch the video:

Cleaning up Crackpot Cave, by Rowan Worsman

This venture began with a Craven Pothole Club meet to Crackpot Cave, Swaledale, in 2018. What seemed like thrown mud was quite evident on many of the formations; A very saddening state of affairs. The cave is used by caving clubs and outdoor centres as it is very accessible for novices. No advanced permission is needed to visit, and it is a good all-round cave with crawling, streamway, walking passage and thousands of stal formations.

The findings were mentioned to CNCC Chair, Andrew Hinde, and from there a plan to undertake cleanup works was drawn up along with a risk assessment. The farm nearby, Summer Lodge, were contacted and the cave owner identified as Gunnerside Estate. The manager was asked for permission to clean the cave and he wanted to see the plan, risk assessment and be reassured regarding any insurance matters. The necessary documents were completed and approved by the CNCC Committee in January and subsequently by the Estate Manager. The CNCC Conservetion Officer, Kay Easton, then contacted our mailing list of conservation volunteers to put a group together. Work was carried out on 30th March 2019.

Seven conservation volunteers met at Summer Lodge at 9:30am. We had all the equipment from the CNCC that we would need, including water sprayers, soft brushes... and more besides. The most difficult bit was transporting the equipment into the cave through the ~100m of crawls, especially the water knapsacks.

Work commenced in a high-level chamber at the far end of the cave using water carried up from the stream. It had been previously established from the farmer at Summer Lodge that this water supply was not used by the farm.

We set to work with water sprayers and soft brushes and someone brought some toothbrushes which worked really well on nooks and crannies where splattered mud had lodged. The damage was very evident, with big splodges or smears of mud arising from years of people climbing onto the stal banks, touching the formations, and in several places, having had obvious mud fights. The presence of hand-prints and scuff marks verified the non-natural deposition of the mud. The effects of our work soon became clear, and we found the work therapeutic and rewarding.

Matt Ewles and Gary Douthwaite came into the cave to try out some new filming equipment. They filmed us working and we had a few words for the cameras from a few members of the group.

We worked mainly in the end chamber which sits above the streamway, and after lunch worked a bit on the stream passage itself, particularly in the well decorated area surrounding a large calcite column.

By this time, it was becoming evident that we couldn’t finish the job that day and we decided we would be very happy to come back and do some more cleaning. The idea of taping off the key cleaned areas in the upper chamber seemed a good one. We will present this plan to the CNCC, and if there are no objections, we can return with tape. Such taping will continue to allow all visitors to enjoy the beauty of the upper chamber, while helping to direct the flow of traffic to preserve it better and providing a discussion topic for leaders of groups to discuss cave conservation with their team.

We worked hard until 3:15pm The knapsacks were stored at the back of the cave near a dig, which made exit much easier. This also shows our determination to go back and finish the job. Hence, what was originally intended to be a one-day job is going to overspill to a few days’ work and hopefully long-term conservation for this cave.

Many thanks to the CNCC Committee for supporting this work, and big thanks to the magnificent seven conservation volunteers for their hard work.

Rowan Worsman, CNCC Conservation volunteer