Creswell Crags Under Threat of Permanent Closure

Creswell Crags was already facing a huge financial challenge in 2020. Closure as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, with unprecedented weeks ahead, now means its future hangs in the balance.

Creswell Crags, near Worksop on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border, has existed for at least 60,000 years. The limestone gorge, honeycombed with caves, was home to early humans and Neanderthals, woolly mammoths and hyenas. With its stunning views, museum of archaeological artefacts, cave tours and welcoming café, it’s a key part of the East Midlands tourism economy. It is now under threat of imminent closure.

Image of a gorge with water and a cloudy sky

The gorge at Creswell Crags [Image by Adrian Kaminski]

The attraction is run by Creswell Heritage Trust, an independent registered charity. The team was already facing a huge challenge in 2020: the first year it is not scheduled to receive any regular external funding from local authorities. Grateful for the years of council support, and always ready for a challenge, the Trust has been working hard to make the attraction self-sufficient. Survival was cast into doubt when, on 17 March 2020, in line with government advice about COVID-19, and in common with museums across the country, the Trust took the decision to close the Visitor Centre to the public and suspend cave tours. This ended all income from visitors, café and shop customers, and school visits. To ensure social distancing, the car park was closed on 23 March, ending the last remaining income stream. The future is now in serious doubt.

The potential loss of Creswell Crags would not just be a tragedy for the dedicated staff and volunteers. The site is of international significance for its Prehistoric heritage. It is the site of the only verified Ice Age cave art in the UK; it has more evidence of Neanderthal inhabitation than nearly anywhere else in the UK; it is the site where the oldest coloured drawing in Britain was found inscribed onto a bone; its Robin Hood cave has more early modern ‘Witch Marks’ than anywhere else in the UK. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for the flora and fauna which thrive in this Magnesian limestone landscape, it is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and is included on the UK Government’s tentative list for submission for UNESCO World Heritage Site Inscription. Around 12,000 school children take part in the Creswell Crags education programme every year. It is visited as a valued outdoor space and window into the ancient past by countless visitors, both locals and tourists, with at least 60,000 visitors a year.

In 2019, the work of the Creswell Crags team earned them the Nottinghamshire STARS Award for Large Visitor Attraction of the Year. Anyone who has visited will attest to the high quality of the visitor experience: from knowledgeable guides for cave tours, to locally sourced food in the café, as well as inspiring views and fascinating stories. In 2020, the site was cited as an artistic inspiration by Jarvis Cocker and it has inspired many more artists, musicians and writers over the years. All of this is at risk if the Trust is forced to close permanently.

Children wearing helmets and head torches in a cave

A cave tour at Creswell Crags

Creswell Crags is not part of a larger organisation, such as the National Trust or a local council. Although it is located on the Welbeck Estate, it is a tenant of the Estate and pays rent. There is no safety net, should income be suspended for an extended amount of time. The staff team – including the management team, education facilitators, ranger, café staff, curator and tour guides – comprises 38 people and all are still working, seeking ways to remain sustainable. It is already a small team for such a popular visitor attraction and large outdoor site.

Limestone rocks, trees and a footpath

Part of the Limestone Gorge at Creswell Crags

At this time, there is only enough funding to see the organisation through to the end of April. Government support will help with staff wages, but without income there will be nothing to cover running and security costs of a large outdoor site, or to invest in the necessary programming and development needed to overcome the 2020 funding challenge. The team have launched a JustGiving fundraiser, which has received some early support. The gorge and lakeside paths remain open for walks but this is free to access via a public bridleway and does not generate income. The team is also remaining active through digital channels during the shutdown. However, these are difficult times for many people in the community, and the team recognise that people will rightly have greater priorities than supporting Creswell Crags.

Dr Tim Caulton, Chair of Creswell Heritage Trust said “Creswell Crags has been home to humans for millennia.  Creswell Heritage Trust cares for the site which is one of the most significant and protected heritage sites in the UK. Yet our immediate future has never been more perilous. We are unable to claim at present on our business insurance as we close in response to coronavirus in what was already set to be a challenging year. Without significant external support, the organisation that looks after Creswell Crags will not be able to survive the summer.”

Paul Baker, Executive Director said: “For a number of years our amazing team has worked to ensure this internationally important site stays open. We have faced the challenge of the reduction and eventual end of regular funding; we have withstood extreme weather conditions; we have made huge steps to become entirely self-sufficient. 2020 was to be the first year we would have achieved this, and nothing prepared us for this threat. Without public support the future of this internationally important site, and our schools and public engagement programme, is in jeopardy. If Creswell Crags means as much to you as it does to us, please help if you are able.

The future remains uncertain for this ‘hidden gem’ of the local area.

Creswell Crags has created a JustGiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/supportcreswellcrags

For further information, please contact Communications and Programmes Manager Rebecca Morris-Buck: rebecca.morris-buck@creswell-crags.org.uk