Ancient villages lost at sea in East Riding

Evidence of communities on the Humber dating back 8,000 years resulting from a geophysical study and small scale excavation between Outstrays and Skeffling village last autumn.

The study found that the area contains a long and interesting history, with evidence of storm surge deposits, ancient river channels and areas of peat from as far back as the Middle and New Stone Age (approximately 3,000 to 8,000 years ago), which suggests that landscapes occupied and exploited by prehistoric people survive beneath the current farmland.

Across the higher parts of the site evidence was also found of Roman settlement activity which evolved into the medieval period as communities settled closer to the shore as the land was drained.


The initial archaeological assessment formed part of the design for the Outstays to Skeffling Managed Realignment Scheme, a new habitat creation project on the Humber Estuary working in partnership between the Environment Agency and Associated British Ports.

Stephen Kemp, senior archaeologist at the Environment Agency, said: “Our initial assessment begins to tell the stories of communities by the Humber that learnt to adapt to environmental changes, like rising sea levels.

“When many of these ancient communities lived here the coast was much further away and the surrounding land was significantly less populated, enabling people and the ecology to thrive.

“The stories of the, now lost, villages provide interesting insight into environmental changes in today’s contexts and why, when providing managed realignment schemes like this, it is vital to ensure we are working with nature to make good long-term choices that will maintain our modern communities.”


The Outstrays to Skeffling Managed Realignment Scheme will see a new inter-tidal environment created that offsets habitat losses from future coastal development and ‘coastal squeeze’.

Coastal squeeze occurs when fixed hard flood defence structures, built to protect people and properties along the coast, reduce the inter-tidal land between low and high tide as a result of rising sea levels. It is a legal obligation for the Environment Agency to rebalance this coastal squeeze by creating a compensatory habitat.

As part of the proposed scheme a 900 acre natural habitat site will be created for estuarine and terrestrial wildlife and an improved landscaped flood defence will surround this area to help reduce the risk of flooding to the local community. Once complete, managed realignment sites like the Outstrays to Skeffling Managed Realignment Scheme are typically colonised with invertebrates and wading birds.

Environment Agency project manager Tim Cobb said: “With higher tides and changes in weather, we cannot avoid changes to our environment as we know it. But the results from our archaeological survey show that these changes have been happening for millennia and they stress the importance of addressing coastal squeeze in key locations on Britain’s coastline.

“While the Outstrays to Skeffling Managed Realignment Scheme is still in public consultation stage we are keen to present our initial findings to the community. Perhaps more importantly though, we’d like to learn more about the local community’s understanding of the site to ensure they help us shape and maintain the important parts of the area’s history.”

A planning application for the Skeffling Managed Realignment Scheme is expected to be submitted at the end of 2017. Subject to planning approval, the Environment Agency says it anticipates starting work for the western site in 2018.

Further archaeological excavations are anticipated in advance of the main scheme construction and regular updates on the findings will be communicated to the community on a regular basis.

Partners involved in the Outstrays to Skeffling Managed Realignment Scheme excavation include: the Environment Agency, Historic England and York Archaeological Trust.

For any queries relating to the Skeffling Managed Realignment Scheme or for more information, please email:

About Compensatory Habitat

Compensatory habitat is required under UK law (Habitats Regulations) at designated sites to replace habitat losses from sea levels rise, and for direct losses from development. Compensatory habitat is needed to enable the Environment Agency to continue to undertake important flood risk management work around the Humber estuary. Associated British Ports is required to provide compensatory habitat for areas along the estuary that will be lost through future port expansion and development. Provision of this compensatory habitat will ensure that the unique environment of the Humber Estuary is preserved and protected for future generations.

Evidence of communities on the Humber dating will be discussed at a free community drop-in event at Welwick Village Hall in East Riding on Monday 4 September.

Environment Agency

Header Image Credit – Environment Agency

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