Craig Weatherhill: Sacred Stones v Sacred Cows (Saving Penwith Moors)

IF someone took a wrecking ball to the Tower of London, there’d be an uproar, and rightly so.

But, in West Cornwall, an unelected quango moves in and, in spite of intense local concerns – including those of elected local councils – imposes a scheme they knew would cause damage to valuable items of Cornish heritage.

And damage has resulted. Several times, with stones of the Tregeseal stone circle, near St Just, being dislodged within 2 years of the controversial introduction of grazing on this moor.

This internationally important monument, within the boundaries of a World Heritage Site, is 3,000 years older than the Tower of London and equally revered.

The latest damage , for which the UK government’s Natural England is being held responsible by a deeply concerned public, has now created a wave of uproar, from within Cornwall and around the world.

Up to sixteen longhorn cattle, far larger than anything that might have grazed here in the distant past, roam the moorland, aiming for spots where they can find grass to graze and to find convenient rubbing posts.

The stone circle provides them with both, and several have now been displaced, with further damage to associated holed stones nearby.

This appalling situation is the result of UK government’s Natural England’s HEATH and High Level Stewardship Scheme, which was born in secrecy several years before the public was presented with a scandalous fait accompli.

Movie evidence link below:

X2011 video cattle circle

It is obvious to any observer that the stated aim of the grazing regime – to control problem areas of bracken – is an utter failure; the cattle avoid these areas to find grass elsewhere.

This moor is incredibly rich in other archaeological remains, some of them extremely fragile in nature and unable to withstand the passage of up to 64 heavy cloven hooves.

The policy implemented by Natural England officials has seen visitor and user numbers decline by three-quarters since 2009, with a damaging effect on the local economy.

They have shown total indifference to this, and to the ongoing damage to internationally important archaeological sites, despite these being sited within a World Heritage Site.

Natural England officials insist that there is no alternative to the grazing regime they insisted upon.

But there is, and there always was.

Natural England itself totally ignored expert advice which they themselves commissioned a year before the public ever found out about their High Level Stewardship Scheme.

This advice stated that this moor was in fine condition and needed only light maintenance and chemical application to the limited pockets of bracken.

They did not recommend grazing as an option.

Both Natural England and English Heritage deny that the cattle are wreaking this havoc on the heritage sites and yet a letter from NE to the tenant farmer in July 2009 makes it clear that they were aware of it as early in the scheme as that, when the cattle had only been there for 3 months, and that EH were involved with plans to “secure the stones” (which did not occur).

Honesty has never ranked highly on the agendas of either of these non-elected quangos.

Under further pressure from our local organisation, Save Penwith Moors, English Heritage are to soon hold a site meeting, as they did back in March after another incident of cattle damage to the stone circle.

Save Penwith Moors, the Cornwall Ancient Sites Protection Network, and even St Just Town Council are to be excluded, just as they were on the previous occasion.

Just those with an a so-called ‘official’ stake are invited – which means NE and EH officials plus the tenant farmer to whom NE pays in excess of £20,000 per year to graze these longhorn cattle on the moor.

This lack of transparency and public accountability only heightens suspicion of an inter-quango cover-up.

They now face something rather different than just concerned local residents, or “noisy natives” as they described us in one written report.

Huge opposition to this threat to Cornwall’s archaeological heritage now also comes from cultural organisations – one with United Nations recognition – and even from academia, and the media and wider public can play its role

Some will be demanding their own attendance at the site meeting. Refusal will invite only increased anger and be impossible to justify.

Craig Weatherhill

Author, historian, archaeologist

on behalf of: Save Penwith Moors

Keep a watch on this issue and more support would be welcome


Write in protest to: Ciaran Gannon, SW Regional Director, Natural England, Level 8 Renslade House, Bonhay Road, Exeter EX4 3AW Tel: 0300 060 2118


Contact your local MP and/or Councillor

Write to the media