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Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network - Chynhalls Point clear-up

Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network – Chynhalls Point clear-up

It’s been a massively busy year so far and I’m afraid I’m behind on posting my monthly articles from Cornwall Today here on my blog.  The first couple of months of 2016 were exciting and chaotic as I prepared the media launch for a show that I was part of in my “other” job as Communications Lead for the arts organisation, Effervescent.  It’s called The Cold Truth, and it’s a groundbreaking work curated and created by a group of young people who have lived experience of child sexual exploitation, and it’s on at Radiant Gallery in Plymouth until 29 April, 2016, do go and see it if you can.

Just after that, I flew to Australia for two weeks to celebrate my Mum’s 70th birthday and visit family and friends.  It was a family affair – my husband, our eldest daughter Daisy and our 5-year-old twins, Freddie and Clemmie – and no mean feat – but we’re very glad we made the effort!  I was especially pleased to have the opportunity to attend the monthly meeting of the Cornish Association of Victoria – which was down to luck rather than good planning on my behalf!  I had the opportunity to address the group about what I do in Cornwall and some of what’s happening in the Duchy and also to meet some of the delightful members of the group.  Thank you to everyone for the warm reception and more about this later.  Upon our return, the transition from 41 degrees in Melbourne to 3 degrees in the South West was a bit of a shock to the system but we hit the ground running and we’re now looking forward to Spring showing its face very soon.

But back to the business of the day – Gool Peran Lowen!  It’s St Piran’s Day today, and as a special treat for the Cornish National Day I’m posting two of my articles from Cornwall Today today!  I’m really looking forward to the celebrations today – I’ll be at the Eden Project with my family where we’ll be enjoying the World Pasty Championships and catching up with our mates the incomparable Fisherman’s Friends. It was great to see them on our local news, BBC Spotlight last night and we’re also looking forward to hearing how this year’s Trelawny Shout goes.  As the memory of the hangover I had from the last one is still quite painful, I think I’ll lay low tonight but if you can get to one of the pubs that it’s being held at (there are many, here’s a list), do try – it’s great fun and raises really important funds for the Cornwall Community Fund.

But I digress… here’s my February column, which I wrote about the work of the Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network, an organisation I’m proud to represent as Voluntary Publicity Officer.  CASPN does incredible work protecting and maintaining precious sites in the Duchy; if you feel you’d like to support it you can join it’s support group FOCAS for a very reasonable sum and keep this important work going.  And don’t forget you can sign up now for CASPN’s “Pathways to the Past” weekend which happens at the end of May, 2016.

Happy St Piran’s Day to all – wherever you may be – and Kernow bys vykken!

Cornwall Today – February 2016

The word “unique” is frequently overused when it comes to describing landscapes, but when it comes to West Cornwall, the description is not only warranted but also very apt.

This granite land with its rugged coastline, spectacular moorland, industrial heritage and ancient sites is much loved and much-visited, but both the wildness of the landscape and its popularity present significant challenges when it comes to the maintenance and preservation of the area.

Cornwall has one of the most intensive prehistoric landscapes in Britain and the far west peninsula of Penwith has the highest concentration of ancient sites in the whole of Western Europe – there are several thousand in total.

While Historic England is the body responsible for individual ancient sites, and landowners have responsibility for maintaining access pathways to the sites, maintaining the sites as a coherent whole doesn’t fall under any statutory body or individual’s responsibility.

It was for this reason that in 1997 a group of passionate local people came together from a wide range of organizations with a shared concern for the protection of ancient sites. There had been some disturbing incidents including the attempted theft of one of the Merry Maidens stones and arson attacks on the iconic Men-an-Tol and Lanyon Quoit. But there were wider concerns about the ongoing maintenance and conservation of and access to the sites.

CASPN Clear up at Tregeseal Circle

CASPN Clear up at Tregeseal Circle

And so the Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network – conveniently shortened to CASPN – was established and formed as a Registered Charitable Trust in 2000 and it has been protecting, preserving and promoting the cause of ancient sites in the Duchy ever since. CASPN’s board includes representatives from both mainstream organizations such as the National Trust, Cornwall Council’s Historic Environment Service, Cornwall Archaeological Society and English Heritage and also user groups such as the Madron Community Forum and the local Pagan Moot.

CASPN Clear-up - Madron Well clouties

CASPN Clear-up – Madron Well clouties

Their aim is to educate the wider community about the local historic environment whilst encouraging the responsible use of the sites, as well as bringing people together to care for the sites with a shared sense of place and identity.

But with ever-increasing public sector and funding cuts and a decreasing volunteer pool to draw upon, CASPN has a massive challenge ahead.

CASPN is chaired by Cheryl Straffon, a Cornishwoman, writer, tour guide and magazine editor.   She explains, “CASPN came into being to fill the gap between statutory bodies and landowners, but as a Charitable Trust, we have very few resources at our disposal.  I think we punch quite a lot above our weight in terms of the resources we do have but we don’t have any regular or basic income and we’re not in receipt of any regular grant money. So we’re doing what we’re doing on a complete shoestring.”

CASPN organizes regular site clear-ups in which volunteers, co-ordinated by the Maintenance Co-ordinator, Dave Munday, make their way through gorse and brambles armed with gardening gloves, secateurs and strimmers to maintain ancient sites so that members of the public can safely and responsibly access them. They’ve also revived traditions, such as the Fenton Bebibell “dolly dunking” where generations ago, children would take their dolls to a well on Good Friday to enact a kind of dolly baptism. These days it’s preceded by a clear up of the area and followed by a feast of hot cross buns, but it’s another example of how CASPN is doing its best to not only look after these places but also involve the community.

CASPN Clear-up - Mulfra settlement

CASPN Clear-up – Mulfra settlement

But the challenges of working in the charitable sector are huge, and finding new people who are able to help out is a constant battle. Dave Munday has been forced to retire from his position after ten years due to ill health, and CASPN is yet to find a replacement.

Cheryl says, “I was recently at the Volunteer Cornwall ceremony with Dave – he’d been highly commended for an environmental award. It was quite staggering to see how many sectors are now being run by local volunteers. There is a huge demand for voluntary work in our society and that’s one of the challenges for CASPN. Another challenge is always to maintain the things you want to do with people who are willing to make a big commitment. A lot of people will make a small commitment and that’s great but for something like CASPN to function to its full effect needs a big commitment from a lot of people. None of us is getting any younger and if the people on the CASPN board eventually retire or can’t go on any more – and David’s a good example – then you’re always on a knife-edge with it. My big fear for the future of CASPN is that there just won’t be the people there to maintain it in the future. It could very quickly move from being a successful effective, respected and fully functioning organization to one that simply can’t function any longer.

CASPN is supported by a membership organization “Friends of Cornwall’s Ancient Sites” (FOCAS) which anyone can join for the cost of a tenner a year. FOCAS members enjoy regular newsletters and free entry to the Pathways to the Past programme of guided walks and informative talks held in West Cornwall every May. But with membership numbers around 100, more help is needed. So what can you do?

“We’re very grateful for FOCAS because it provides our only income,” says Cheryl. “But most of the money from membership goes on paying every day running costs such as insurance. But without it we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. The people who become members do it not because of the newsletters or Pathways to the Past, they do it because they want to help us and that’s fantastic. They’re putting their money where their beliefs are.” And that’s what CASPN could do with more of. There’s strong interest – Facebook likes for the CASPN page number over 2,000, but those likes need to be translated into FOCAS membership and voluntary support.

But there has been some good news recently. It was announced late in 2015 that the Penwith Landscape Partnership bid for Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) money had been successful to the tune of £2.7million. CASPN is a lead partner with the Ancient Sites strand of this bid, and the award now means that CASPN may have the opportunity to do many of the things it’s wanted to do for years.

“What we’ve done up till now has really been reactive. We’ve tried to protect sites when they were under threat, we’ve tried to keep an eye on the state of the sites – we have very much a hands-on practical approach so if something happens we move in,” says Cheryl. “The HLF award will put us into a different league where we can become more proactive rather than reactive. It’s incredibly exciting. We can start to manifest our vision for a complete network of interconnections between the ancient sites, between the access to the sites and the visitors who visit them. It’s a delicate dividing line – we don’t want to over-promote these places so they just become another site on a tourist trail, but it would be really great to join up all the dots and create a coherent vision around promoting and presenting the sites so that they are good visitor experience.”

CASPN volunteers - Three Brothers clear-up

CASPN volunteers – Three Brothers clear-up

But there’s still a gap between now and when the Penwith Landscape Partnership puts the HLF money into practice in 2018. So if you’re at a loose end and you’d like to do something positive for the landscape of West Cornwall, join FOCAS, or better still, dig out your gardening gloves, have a look at the CASPN website and help out at one of their events, your efforts will be hugely appreciated and you might just enjoy yourself too.

At a glance

The Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network


© Sally Bell 2016

Originally published in Cornwall Today www.cornwalltoday.co.uk

With thanks to the CASPN for the use of images.