"AS HOLES in the ground go the Dentdale Caves are pretty exciting," according to English Nature's Kendal conservation officer Simon Webb.

The Upper Dentdale Cave System, which lies within the Yorkshire Dales National Park about two miles west of Dent, has just been named a site of special scientific interest by the Government's conservation advisors English Nature.

The designation will give the limestone caves added protection under planning regulations and local landowners will be advised by English Nature on the best way to manage the area's landscape.

Mr Webb added: "It also gives us a chance to influence recreation user groups. We will be talking to caving groups that use the system to make sure that their actions do not damage the area."

The system stretches for about one mile under the floor of the river Dee and consists of one main passage, about thirty feet below the surface, which has other passageways and caves leading off it.

The system is unusual because it drains in a zig zag course, first running east and then west, and because it follows the course of the river.

Part of the system cont ains a 100 by 200 feet underground chamber - one of the biggest in the Pennines.

The floor of the chamber is covered in massive blocks of rock which have fallen away from the roof.

The system is believed to be at least 10,000 years old and its features give geological clues to what the Pennines looked like during and immediately after the ice ages.

Mr Webb added: "I am pleased that the system has received this recognition, it reflects the caves' importance."

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