An appreciation of the wealth of material preserved in the caves of the southern Magnesian Limestone brings with it the need to consider conservation and management strategies (Mills 2001). Archaeological caves are sensitive sites that are vulnerable to natural processes of disturbance and to direct human interference. Examples of natural threats to cave deposits include the activities of burrowing animals, damage to cave entrances from tree fall, and the erosion or dissolution of deposited materials through water action. Caves may also be affected by human activity, including mineral extraction, dumping of refuse in landfill sites, pollution of groundwater from changes in land usage, and the exploration of caves in pursuit of leisure activities. Although a well-resourced management strategy has been devised for the Creswell caves, most caves do not enjoy the protection afforded through being designated as Scheduled Ancient Monuments or by being located within Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and when damage occurs to archaeological deposits it may be hidden from view.
An essential first step in conserving and managing the cave archaeological resource is to record and characterize the caves before they are excavated. As a natural feature, the form of a cave tells us nothing about its contents, so the default assumption is that all caves are possible locations for archaeology (an estimated 20 per cent of British caves contain archaeological deposits, and many other caves contain preserved faunal remains). English Heritage has been proactive in sponsoring survey projects in the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales National Parks, and on the southern part of the Magnesian Limestone outcrop in which caves are being systematically visited and recorded. These surveys provide a baseline from which further detailed studies of the cave archaeological record can proceed.
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