AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL survey of blaze-affected areas of Ilkley Moor is being mounted as new advice is published to combat the upsurge in wildfires across the South Pennines.

Rural regeneration agency Pennine Prospects has teamed up with the Moors for the Future Partnership to issue a leaflet asking people to be more fire aware.

It warns that the growing frequency of blazes poses a danger to animals and vegetation and to efforts to restore peat moorland, described as Britain’s rainforest for its capacity to store carbon.

Thousands of copies are being distributed across public sites as the peak visitor season gets under way.

New figures also reveal that over the past 10 months 22 square kilometres of moorland has been hit by fire in the South Pennines, Peak District (Dark Peak) and West Pennine Moors.

Moors for the Future, working with partners including Pennine Prospects, is restoring peat damaged by centuries of industrial pollution across this area, with £35m so far invested or pledged.

Chris Dean, Head of Programme Delivery at Moors for the Future, said: "Much of the peatland in the Peak District and South Pennines is much drier than it ought to be and the dry peat will burn.

"Moorland fires are easily started by people lighting barbecues, campfires and cigarettes.

"Although they put their fire out, underground peat may have caught alight, which can burn, unseen, for days or weeks before re-emerging to ignite the surface.

"If you see a fire, don’t assume it is a managed burn. Phone 999 immediately."

On Ilkley Moor a blaze over the Easter weekend took 100 firefighters to bring under control.

The wider area is one of the most archaeological rich in Europe with over 400 known sites, including cup and ring marks and petroglyphs carved into stones by people who lived before the Pyramids were built.

Now Pennine Prospects, with the co-operation of landowner Bradford Council, is mounting a three- day survey to assess the damage caused to known historic sites and discover if the blaze has uncovered previously undetected archaeological features.

Chris Atkinson, Heritage and Landscape Development Officer with Pennine Prospects, said: “Where the fire has burnt off vegetation and the top layer of peat it’s possible there are archaeological features waiting to be found.

"They could include more prehistoric markings, flints, or signs of historic settlement.

"We just don’t know what we’ll find until we take a closer look.

"What we do know is that any sites uncovered will be vulnerable to erosion as they are now exposed to the weather.

"So we may need to make management recommendations, such as covering them with protective heather bales.”

The survey team comprises archaeologists and public volunteers, who will be given training in archaeological survey techniques.