CRAVEN'S cave heritage will be explored thanks to a £100,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

DigVentures has secured the money for its Under the Uplands project, which aims to build a greater awareness and better understanding of cave archaeology, ensuring this fragile and irreplaceable heritage can be enjoyed for years to come.

Running until December 2016, the project will be based at Lower Winskill Farm in Langcliffe, and will have two main components – a community-led excavation of the previously unexplored Haggs Brow Cave in Settle, and the digitisation of a nationally important archive relating to the town's Victoria Cave, which was excavated in the 1870s.

The cave systems of the Dales are one of the area’s most defining natural features, containing almost one half of all the known caves in Great Britain as well as an incredible record of rich ecosystems, now-extinct animal species, and even the arrival of modern humans in the north of England after the last glaciation.

A virtual museum and cave archaeology toolkit learning resource will be developed, building a network of 'community curators' to help digitise and create 3D digital models of previously inaccessible 19th century cave archives.

Lisa Westcott Wilkins, DigVentures’ managing director, said: "Some of the objects we’ve seen from past excavations at Victoria Cave are mind-blowing: bones of spotted hyaenas and their prey, such as elephant, rhinoceros and hippopotamus, complete skulls of brown bears, rare Ice Age hunter’s tools and a medley of beautiful Roman decorative objects.

"It is imperative the excavations and the finds from the cave are made accessible, which is why we are so excited about the virtual museum. Rather than having to visit a bricks-and-mortar building with only a fraction of the most important artefacts on display, we’re putting the entire collection in everyone’s pocket.

"It’s a truly thrilling project and we can’t wait to get started.”

The project will be carried out in partnership with Tom Lord, of Lower Winskill Farm, the current custodian of the archive.

He said: "Victoria Cave tells of times when the Dales were truly wild. The excavations found amazing evidence of top Ice Age predators and their eco-systems, and an incredible human story reaching back nearly 15,000 years.

"But cave environments and their archaeological sediments are extremely vulnerable. Most of the damage is unintentionally caused by recreational activities, such as climbing and walking, and casual cave exploration. It is vitally important we share this information with as many people as possible and a cave archaeology toolkit is developed that will help visitors to enjoy these very special places without putting them in danger."

The community excavation of Haggs Brow Cave, on land owned by Lower Winskill Farm, will take place in August 2016 and will offer many opportunities for involvement, including training in archaeological and digital techniques, open days, workshops, lectures and education packs for local schools.