The landowning charity’s cattle stock-proofing measures to restore biodiversity on Carn Galva moorland have come under fierce criticism. Using an excavator, the Trust piled earth on top of a three-feet Cornish hedge in a method known as ditching and casting. A drain, inserted to deal with ground water on what is said to be the moorland’s lowest point, flooded three public rights of way and a track leading to the Nine Maidens Circle. Taken from the TIC website. Photo Save Penwith Moors
Diggers being used by the National Trust and Natural England on the ancient hedgerows Penwith Moors
Cornwall under threat – Craig Weatherhill
Everything that is Cornish is under threat as never before – our identity, heritage, culture, rights and even our way of life.
A dramatic opening statement to be sure, yet an alarmingly true one. Now we can add to that list of endangered items our unique and most iconic landscapes. The chief culprit in the majority of cases: remote officialdom which is now facing concerted opposition.
The rot has been setting in for years with the media insisting on calling Cornwall a ‘county’ in spite of a Royal Commission recommending the term ‘Duchy’ be used. The Devonwall syndrome, which tied us in with our Anglo-Saxon neighbour led to the oft-used phrase Devon-and-Cornwall (as though we merely rate as an afterthought) and, in turn, led to the current and artificially defined ‘South West Region’. Cornwall’s unique identity gets buried deeper and deeper as time passes.
We were recently told that Cornwall must accept the building 70,000 new houses on its precious soil. The entity dictating this potential disaster is the totally unelected South West Regional Assembly which is spending your hard-earned money and making decisions that seriously affect us all. Cornish residents are fast becoming the great disenfranchised and it is not acceptable. Did you vote for any of SWRA’s members? Indeed, who are they? Were you even asked for a regional assembly covering the ‘South West’? No. Yet even North East England was granted a referendum on that very same subject – and rejected it. Where is our referendum? Should not our local politicians be saying to SWRA: you are entirely unelected: we do not accept your authority?
Under the direct control of the old Minstry of Works and Department of the Environment, our built heritage was relatively well-tended (with a few sad exceptions). Then, in 1984 Orwell’s predictions began to take form. The responsibility for our historic built heritage was handed over to a new quango with the grand name of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission. Within a short time, this had changed its name to ‘English’ Heritage which now markets our Celtic Cornish heritage as that of a totally unconnected people who were not even in Britain when much of that heritage was built. In recent years, it has hived off those sites that don’t generate revenue to other groups such as the National Trust and the Cornwall Heritage Trust, only retaining management of those sites which attract entrance fees, complete with souvenir shops. Its treatment of our ancient monuments has been abysmal, pouring masses of ugly concrete around the upper edges of the round chamber in the Carn Euny fogou and even filling in the remains of the Chysauster fogou (after publicly denying they would do any such thing). I took this up personally with ‘English’ Heritage’s then chairman, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu whose words will live with me forever: “It’s not as if it’s Stonehenge, is it?”
In 1992, ‘English’ Heritage assured me that a thorough review of scheduled monuments (ie. those to be protected by law) would be complete within 5 years. In 2008, I am still waiting and so are important sites and monuments that remain completely unprotected. During that period some have disappeared. One medieval, and unscheduled, stone cross vanished from near St Breward on Bodmin Moor and only came to light when I came across it in a garden in the Cot Valley near St Just. An unscrupulous farmer nearly sold the circular capstone of the unscheduled Bosporthennis Quoit, having dragged it away from the site. Happily, his action was discovered before it was too late and the site’s actual owner forced him to put it back.
The National Trust began its reign in Cornwall on a fairly benign footing, although it was the first to start selling off buildings to second-home buyers. That hardly endeared them to local people, and their current practice of renovating buildings for holiday-let use, rather than as homes for local people hasn’t helped their cause either. After a while, they began to deny the traditional rights of local people, such as the age-old right for farmers to take sand from a beach on the Lizard to spread on their fields. Now the NT hierarchy has taken on an almost feudal attitude towards local residents, even interfering with planning applications which are nowhere near the land they hold. Worse, local planning authorities regard them as a statutory authority for consultation (which they are not. I recently read right through the National Trust Acts and found nothing at all that grants them any such role or authority). Like ‘English’ Heritage (and, to a large extent, even our own local authorities), the National Trust has been accused of operating a policy of not employing Cornish people for any position higher than menial labour.
A highly alarming recent development has been the formation of yet another unelected body called Culture South West which is to take on the role of commandeering, controlling and manipulating our birthright cultural heritage. Every person, whether Cornish or not should regard the formation of this body dangerous and, of course, no one local is employed by Culture South West. Their policy statement looks as though it has been written without consultation with culture overall being trivialised in a way that should deeply worry us all. Cornish culture, or at least their version of it, consists largely of the Eden Project, Trebah Gardens…hold on, culture does not equal tourist attractions. As John Angarrack famously wrote, this compares with defining French culture as being Disneyland, Paris.
Culture is deep, ancient and multi-facetted and it is our intellectual property, not that of some unelected quango based hundreds of miles away. Cornish culture is unique and, as a result, priceless. It needs close guardianship, protection and understanding and bears no relationship to cultures found in Devon, Somerset and wherever else these people count as ‘South West’. Yett CSW intend to bury it deep within an artificial ‘culture’ of their own manufacture. We must prevent that from ever happening.
Rampant English nationalism or supremacism has created ‘English Heritage’, Sport ‘England’, ‘English’ Estates and so on, to operate on Celtic soil, knowing full well the distress, anger and indignation these political titles cause among proudly Cornish people. Now, we have another one whose current plan even threatens to radically alter the entire character of the iconic Penwith Moors.
In line with this political policy, the former Nature Conservancy Council changed its name to ‘English’ Nature and, more recently, to Natural ‘England’. This quango has now taken over the adminstrative role of farming conservation subsidies of schemes such as the highly successful environmentally sensitive area, a designation given to the Penwith Moors 23 years ago. This encouraged local farmers to operate in traditional ways in order to conserve both the natural and historic landscapes. There was a 90 per cent take-up of this subsidised scheme among local farmers and it was, in all respects, an excellent scheme that benefitted everyone.
It has now been decide to phase out the environmentally sensitive areas, and replace them with something called the HEATH Project. The vast majority of the farmers who benefitted from environmentally sensitive area subsidies and grants will lose out entirely, because Natural ‘England’ has selected a mere few to participate in this new and ill-advised scheme. Not only that, but the introduction of cattle – including the likelihood of bulls – into open right–to-roam areas will add a very real hazard to ramblers, horse-riders and dog walkers who, for decades beyond recall, have roamed these open moorland areas without any such hindrance or hazard. Add to this the introduction of alien fences, gates and horrendously noisy cattle-grids and we begin to see what appears to be an attempt to enclose and impose state control over open (and privately owned) land.
The intention of this project is to intensively graze the moors, changing forever its familiar and hugely varied appearance and habitats, reducing it to a dull area of uniform heathland (or that is their plan). This policy will evict the current wild life population and replace it with another. What is ‘natural’ about that? Natural England’s argument is that the moor is trying to revert to scrub and woodland, regardless of the fact that, since traditonal grazing ceased 150 years ago, this has not happened. The moor has ‘managed’ itself, without human interference, into the wonderful and uniquely wild landscape loved by millions. Summer grazing, for two or three months of the year did once take place on the Penwith Moors, but this was far less intensive, involved the presence of herdsmen, and did not require fencing and enclosure. The practice ceased because it was of little benefit to farming and, had this opinion altered, then farmers would have reintroduced it themselves, without being prompted to do so by an external agency.
Richard Angove, of the National Farmers Union, is mystified by this turnaround in attitude as one of the requirements of the ESA was that no fencing should be introduced to the moor. Now, the very same people are demanding that it should.
The effect on archaeology will be dire. Recently, the Trippet Stones on Bodmin Moor required expensive repair to remedy severe cattle damage and, of course, standing stones will be a magnet to cattle who need convenient scratching posts. Natural England alleges that ‘historical assessments’ have been prepared by our old friends ‘English’ Heritage – and yet they intend to place water troughs in areas of fragile archaeology, such as medieval ridge-and-furrow, that will be destroyed by such concentration of cloven hoof activity within a week. I now have copies of those assessments and, even on an initial scan, I’ve found that the inventories omit major scheduled monuments, such as the menhir near the summit of Watch Croft and the tor enclosure found in 2002 on Carn Kenidjack. This appalling neglect is intensely worrying.
The National Trust is a full partner in the HEATH Project (even though their counterpart in Wales has rejected such schemes) and, on the coast road under Carn Galva, the two intend to install cattle grids extending the width of the road from hedge to hedge. This will prohibit all passage by horse riders and those who enjoy the growing pastime of pony-and-trap driving.