Gawflat Meadow

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Gawflat Conservation Meadow is adjacent to Aireville Park.  In 2013 it was awarded Queen’s Field status giving it protection from development.  It has been restored by Skipton Civic Society and Craven District Council as a conservation site for the benefit of the community. It provides somewhere to see wild flowers and grasses and the wildlife that go with them; and the top of the meadow path is an excellent viewpoint.

In Autumn 1993 the Skipton Civic Society approached Craven District Council about creating a conservation site on this unused and neglected meadowland. The Council agreed, subject to a survey by an expert. Dr. Judith Allinson’s report was most encouraging and the project received approval. Work began in the Spring of 1994.

Why  Gawflat ?

A ‘gaw’ was a ditch dug in arable land to drain off excess water.

A ‘flatt’ was a portion of land, originally a square furlong.

Long before Aireville Hall was built by Henry Alcock in 1836, Gawflat Farm occupied a nearby site. The track which led up to it was known as Gawflat Lane, and pre-dates the building of the Leeds – Liverpool Canal in 1774. This name persisted well into the 19th century for the drive up to the Hall, and remains in use today as the main track through the park. Gawflat Lodge, demolished in the 1960s, stood by the park gate. The swing bridge over the canal is still called Gawflat Bridge on modern maps.

It seemed appropriate that the Conservation Meadow should bear a local name and Gawflat was the obvious choice.

A Little Geology and History.

Gawflat Meadow is situated on a drumlin- a deposit of boulder clay left during the Ice Age- which formed a smoothly rounded oval hill. Lambert Hills, as it is known, rises to 120 meters with steep slopes to the North and South.

The top soil in the Meadow is at most only 30 cm. deep and lies on solid clay, which causes drainage problems in very wet weather. The top of the hill becomes waterlogged, while quagmires form at the bottom of each slope due to surface run-off. Spring lines also rise in very wet weather along the east-west axis near the bottom of the south slope. These conditions affect the flora; some typical meadow plants thrive, others cannot tolerate these conditions.

Soil cores from the Meadow show evidence of ancient ploughing, but by 1757 the land was enclosed and Lambert Hills had become meadowland.

Of the original 3 enclosures, only Gawflat Meadow remains. The boundaries are the same today except for the southern end which extended to Broughton Road before the construction of the canal in the 1770s.

In 1872 the Aireville Estate was sold, and bought by John Dewhurst. The Meadow belonged to Sir Henry Tufton,heir to the last Earl of Thanet of Skipton Castle.It was not part of Aireville Estate. The Dewhurst family bought it at a later date

In 1945 Skipton Urban District Council bought the Aireville Estate and produced ambitious plans for Aireville  recreational and entertainments park to be constructed, which would have destroyed the Meadow. When Craven District Council took over administration in 1974 Gawflat Meadow still survived, but its use as farming land was not viable because of its location and difficulty in making it stock proof. Today it is not possible to manage it by the ideal conservation method including some grazing, but every effort should be made to preserve it as part of Skipton’s long history.

Restoring the Meadow.

The Meadow had been neglected and misused and by 1993 was in danger of becoming a wasteland. Many local residents who regularly walked through it feared for its future.

Our biggest task initially was to clear decades of accumulated rubbish, old fencing and dead wood. The hedgerows needed regenerating by inter-planting trees and bushes. New gates, fencing and stone walling were required on 3 boundaries. A full survey of flora and fauna needed to be carried out and recorded.

The work has been undertaken by many volunteers, staff of CDC, staff and students of Craven College, local firms  and craftsmen.  The financing of the project initially was shared equally by Skipton Civic Society and  Craven District Council, together with a substantial grant from Rural Action.

We hope the results of our labour continue to be enjoyed by all who visit the meadow. Historical and scientific researches have revealed that Skipton possesses a valuable conservation site within the Town boundary.  Gawflat Meadow is well worth the money and work involved to restore it, and then manage it for the future. It is cut for hay annually.

Flora and Fauna.                          1994 survey.                            2011 lists.

Wildflowers & Herbs.                       47                                                 50

Trees & Shrubs.                                   18                                                 31

Birds.                                                          35                                                 46

Mammals [ incl. bats].                    7                                                  9

Butterflies.                                              11                                                 13

Fungi [specialist survey needed]

Grasses & Sedges.                                 15                                                 15

 Wildlflowers of special interest include, yellow meadow vetchling, an indicator of an old meadow, cowslips, red clover, increasingly rarer in pasture land.

Trees and shrubs planted since 1994, ash, blackthorn, hawthorn, holly, whitebeam, hornbeam,  willow, alder, field maple, lime, oak, wild cherry, horse chestnut.

Birds with just a single sighting include, redstart, curlew, snipe, spotted flycatcher, goldcrest, waxwing.

Many others can be regularly seen, including winter migrants, redwing, fieldfares, & summer migrants, swallows, swifts, house martins, blackcaps, willow and garden warblers.

Mammals include weasel, hedgehog, shrew, pipistrelle bat. Rabbits are a pest, but CDC does some control.

Butterflies seen more recently are small copper, speckled wood, painted lady.

Disciotis venosa is a fungus of special interest,indicating an old meadow.

Contact   01756 700370 for more information, or to give information, or to volunteer to help  with the maintenance of Gawflat Meadow.

Acknowledgements and Thanks

Skipton Civic Society much appreciates the help and good will shown by everyone who has participated in this project; volunteers who give generously of their time and local firms and craftsmen who have kept their charges to a minimum.

Craven Tree Trust – planting trees and erecting fencing.  Craven Naturalists – surveying flora & recording.  Skipton ATC – clearing old fencing and dead wood.  Drs. Cotton & Dixon, Bradford University, surveying land & advice.  Mr. D. Johnson & family – haymaking.  Craven College –  tree & hedge work.  Mr. D.Grant – historical research.  Yorkshire Archaeological Society – access to valuable archives and advice.  Dr. J. Allinson – original survey & report.  Mr. A. Whitham – gates & timber fencing.  Mr.A. Graham – stonewalling.  Mr. A. Laing – hedge laying.  Traffic Management Supplies – meadow notices.  Messrs.ED & DA Binns – erecting notices on stone plinths.  Mr. K.W. Smith – erecting chestnut paling.  Mr. S. Roocroft – [ Rural Action] – support & advice.Army Foundation College,Harrogate young soldiers – work on entrances, tree planting, litter clearance.  Bowman, Riley partnership [ Architects] – production of original leaflet. Craven District Council officers & staff, and for the mowing of the permitted path round the edge of the Meadow.

The late Margaret Irving of the Civic Society first proposed the idea that this was an interesting part of Skipton’s heritage and should be a Society conservation project. She was project secretary for 13 years and did the art work for the original leaflet.  The text here is taken from the up-dated leaflet issued to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Civic Society [ 1961 – 2011].  More recently, the project secretary has been Sheila Clark. In 2013 the project received the Craven Best Environmental Project award.