EVIDENCE of a charcoal industry dating back to 1290 has been unearthed at Hirst Wood in Shipley during research into ancient woodlands.

The find is part of a major £500,000 project run by rural regeneration agency, Pennine Prospects, and is jointly funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Yorkshire Water, Newground Together and the Green Bank Trust.

Called Celebrating Our Woodland Heritage the project has involved an unprecedented archaeological exploration of woods across the South Pennines.

Support has also been provided by Bradford University’s School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences, which is based at the Uni’s City Campus at Richmond Road in Bradford.

Among the discoveries are extensive remains of an ancient charcoal industry uncovered in Shipley’s Hirst Wood.

Radiocarbon dating has been used to date a charcoal burning platform found in the woodland to 1290, a little earlier than a similar structure found at Hardcastle Crags, near Hebden Bridge.

Chris Atkinson, heritage and landscape development officer with Pennine Prospects, said that both finds had changed their understanding of the charcoal industry.

He said: “Both platforms were in almost continuous use until the nineteenth century, rewriting our understanding of this important industry in the South Pennines and wider afield.”

Now in its final year, the project has seen a total of 38 areas of woodland surveyed, 29 of which are in West Yorkshire. In addition it has found mill buildings, medieval field systems, woodland boundaries, possible prehistoric cup-marked stones and past iron smelting sites.

The known site of what is believed to be a prehistoric roundhouse in Hirst Wood was also assessed and re-surveyed as part of the project.

Furthermore, a total of 1,500 new or previously unrecorded archaeological features have been identified across the South Pennines.

A report on the project, which has also enabled 4,700 children to attend forest schools learning bushcraft and enjoying natural play, will be published by March 2020.

Despite its history and beauty, the South Pennines remains the only upland landscape in England not designated as a national park, or area of outstanding natural beauty.

As such Pennine Prospects is spearheading an ambitious plan with partners to launch a self-declared South Pennines Park, embracing parts of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester.

The aim is to unlock the region’s potential to nurture a thriving and resilient local economy, a landscape for the future and one that can be enjoyed by everyone.

The South Pennines covers 460 square miles of upland country, bounded by the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales national parks, plus two areas of outstanding natural beauty: Nidderdale and the Forest of Bowland.

Located in northern England, it is one of the UK’s most celebrated landscapes, embracing parts of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester, with a population of 450,000.

Pennine Prospects was established in 2005 and promotes, protects and enhances the natural and cultural heritage of the South Pennines.