Open Letter, by Craig Weatherhill
Letter to Andrew Vines, “English” Heritage, 26 March 2014.
(copies to: Maria Miller, Culture Minister; Andrew George MP; George Eustice MP; Ian Liddell-Grainger MP; SPM, KBCL, CASPN)
Dear Mr Vines,
I have had sight of your letter to Ian McNeil Cooke, dated 10th March 2014, and note your final line: “We will not answer further correspondence on the matter”. Quite frankly, I am appalled by this attitude, which is not to be expected from a body which is accountable to the general public.
You may not be aware that the organisation represented by Mr McNeil Cooke, Save Penwith Moors (SPM), consists of some 700 members, most of whom are intimately acquainted with the Penwith Moors, with many possessing considerable and diverse knowledge and experience of that area; from its archaeology and history, to its natural habitat, including wild-life management and conservation. This deep local knowledge and expertise, accrued over decades, far exceeds any held by officials of “English” Heritage (EH) or Natural “England” (NE), yet continues to be held in contempt and disregard by both organisations. SPM and its aims are also fully supported by the Celtic League, with whom you have also received communication, and which has the full recognition of the United Nations.
By what authority does an employee of an agency financed by public funding refuse communication with properly concerned members of that public? The concerns which have been put to you are neither vexatious nor frivolous, but of an extremely serious nature. I put it to you that, if you find the content of that communication “repetitive”, then it is only continual inaction, intransigence and disinterest on the part of EH that can account for it.
Your letter asserts that officers of your organisation regularly monitor the scheduled sites and monuments of West Penwith. I assert that they do no such thing. Since May 2009, no less than 15 separate incidents of damage to scheduled monuments in this area have occurred, all directly caused by the imposition of grazing regimes and totally unsuitable breeds of grazing stock insisted upon by your sister quango, NE. None of these incidents were detected by EH staff. All were discovered by members of the public and, through SPM, reported to your organisation which, in every case, responded tardily and apparently with considerable reluctance.
You also state that, with regard to the HLS scheme in West Penwith: “We consider the HLS scheme to be appropriate to the management of the moors, in particular to help clear scrub and bracken from historic landscapes and sites at risk of damage by root action, burrowing animals, and concealment in undergrowth.” It is impossible to assess how you reach that conclusion without the same intimate knowledge of this landscape as that possessed by members of SPM and the Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN). In fact, none of that statement’s assertions have been borne out by five years of grazing on Carnyorth Common. The historic sites are kept clear of scrub and bracken only by a programme of hand clearance regularly carried out by the volunteers of CASPN. That the actions of “burrowing animals” are affected in any way by a grazing regime appears to derive from sheer fantasy and is, quite frankly, a ludicrous assertion.
On what basis do you claim that archaeological deposits at the Men-an-Tol are not being disturbed by the deep poaching caused by recent cattle activity in a prolonged period of wet weather? Are you merely thinking about the presently scheduled area, which only covers the most obvious group of stones, or the entire 18-metre diameter area of the former stone circle, discovered in 1992, of which those stones were part? The majority of this stone circle, shockingly, remains unscheduled (of which see further details below). This assertion very much resembles that was voiced by your organisation after damage done to a scheduled barrow on Woon Gumpus Common in 1999. In that case, EH stated that only top layers of modern dumping had been disturbed, utterly ignoring the testimony of an experienced archaeologist who well knew the difference between the layers of dumping and those of the archaeology beneath.
The track record of EH in Cornwall, since its inception in 1984 has, quite frankly, been a disgrace. A comprehensive dossier on this record has been compiled over those years. This includes, among many items, EH’s total inaction over the disastrous Cadbury’s Creme Egg Hunt in 1984, which seriously damaged more than 30 ancient sites in Cornwall, its appalling treatment of the Chysauster fogou in 1989 (“It’s not as if it’s Stonehenge, is it?” – Lord Montagu, then Chairman of EH, to Penwith District Council), and the present disgraceful treatment of scheduled sites by your fellow quango, NE.
EH has yet to explain its conduct in covertly suspending all scheduling on the Penwith Moors at the inception of the Environmentally Sensitive Area in 1987 (that scheduling has never been resumed), or its deliberately untruthful assurances to the then Penwith District Council from the following year that a new and extended scheduling programme was under way and due for completion within 5 years. This wilful untruth was repeated to the Council by EH and its agents in Truro for several years afterwards. The truth of the suspended scheduling in 1987 only came to light by way of a report written by the Historic Environment Service in Truro in 2008. None of this is hearsay, Mr Vines, as I was the Conservation Officer of Penwith District Council to whom your organisation made those “assurances” in written form.
I await your written assurance that communication with SPM, the Kernow Branch of the Celtic League (KBLC), and concerned members of the public about damage to the sites and monuments of West Penwith will be resumed, without conditions, forthwith, and that those concerns be addressed with the seriousness and urgency they merit. Your “increasingly scarce resources” do not interest any of us, and should not be held up as an excuse for non-action and avoidance of responsibility. Members of the public, of SPM, CASPN and KBCL, also have little or no resources at their disposal, but none would ever permit that to inhibit their genuine and active care for a unique landscape, which merits considerably more than lame excuses for negligence.
Should that assurance not be forthcoming within 21 days, you will leave me with little choice ther than to initiate a programme of intensive lobbying for a Public Inquiry into the conduct of both “English” Heritage and Natural “England” in Cornwall and, in particular, West Cornwall. You will doubtless be aware of publicised dissatisfaction with the actions of both quangos by politicians such as George Eustice MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger MP, and by senior journalists such as George Monbiot.
I await your response.
Author, archaeologist, historian