A Natural Woodland and Historical Heritage Programme for Carn Brae?

Article by (Dr.) Nigel Miles ©

The burning bracken on Carn Brae on that one night last summer made front page news across the media in the South West of England, which in one way pales into insignificance of what happened on one day too but in April, 2015.

Carn Brea
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Carn Brae: 40 ha of Common Land now in common ownership.

All of us in Carn Brae Parish including the residents of Four Lanes and Pencoys are now privileged in being the natural owners, as with the all people of Cornwall, of 40 hectares (103 acres) around and including the Carn. In the late Spring Newsletter 2015, provided by the Parish Council and declared by the Planning Secretariat (Sue Arnot), that we are the moral and legal owners of this Common Land as from 21st April 2015. This means that we have relatively unmitigated access to this wonderful area of West Cornwall, including the summit on which sits our famous monument, the area of heritage historical human settlements and the natural ecological areas which currently are covered with noxious bracken. The Carn is already part of a World Heritage Site, an area of Great Landscape Value/Great Historical Value and much of is classified a Conservation Area. It now has a higher degree of protection than ever before. The beautiful hill can see not only from all parts of our Parish and also for many miles in all directions across a large area of West Cornwall.

Recently with others in the Parish an idea was put to our Tree Warden Councillor and me about the idea of investigating a programme to promote and consider redeveloping what the local professionals within Cornwall Council are considering seriously that our Carn Brae could once again become a dynamic natural woodland combined natural heritage historical community area. Detailed biological diversity studies are being suggested to support this and to promote ecological landscaping is being seriously suggested to offer our “Common Land” not only a new lease on life in the hope for a new natural woodland for our children’s future.

 Let us examine some facts and prospective support.

  • Parts of the Carn have historical significance, this is undeniable, and there is reference from research in the 1970’s and that of English Heritage to support this. Unfortunately their involvement has been limited to only an academic interest, without any productive participation.
  • We know that currently the remaining areas of the Carn, are covered in bracken; perhaps wild looking, but disastrous for our biodiversity and our own health!
  • There is now a drive in Europe to promote natural wild areas in association with human heritage and the contemporary need on a low intensity input to maintain real ecological sustainability. Such is the remit and hopeful prospective support of our Parish Council, Cornwall Council, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership, Cornwall Wildlife Trust, and many other ecologically and green economic development groups.

We can ask why is this so important. Carn Brae seems to be an area which we all take for granted to date. The Parish Council has stated that, “activities such as walking, running, sight-seeing, birdwatching, climbing and picnicking…. and we are delightful to have achieved this for future generations.”

 But surely we now have the opportunity to promote an ecological and heritage programme of a much greater benefit for us all.

Since the Mesolithic period (6,000 BP) until the rule of Henry VIII, (in the early 16th Century,) this whole area of Carn Brea was an extension of the natural woodlands which now exist and have done so at Tehidy (and Illogan). Yes and at the same time when our last wolf and wild deer populations were exterminated. Pollen studies will confirm the vast array of herbaceous and natural tree woodland species present and could be again. And this is fact. Sadly Cornwall is one of the most “green desert” regions of Europe. Less than 4% of its land surface is covered in trees whether in hedgerows, copses or woodlands and the vast majority are adjoining the Ria river valleys of south Cornwall.  (The UK as a whole has less than 12% woodland cover, Europe 36% whilst other temperate areas of the world have 50% of such cover in Canada and 60% in Russia).

Regarding the bracken, a type of fern, which has engulfed 99% of “our Common Land” we are living in a potential nightmare of biodiversity and ecological holocaust. We are really unaware of the toxic nature of bracken and not only is there evidence of its carcinogenicity towards our natural mammalian wildlife (and other warm blooded vertebrates such as our birds), but also to the insect and other invertebrate taxa and the erosion of the ecology which destroys the whole cycle of biodiversity bionetwork. It needs to be eradicated and for our natural woodland to be able to re-establish itself with human support intervention where necessary.  There is even evidence that the toxic interaction of chemical erosion of any of the structures of any historical settlements remaining (from those not already removed to make Cornish stone dry walls throughout all other areas of Cornwall) is being destroyed by such plant chemicals produced by the exudate from the brackens rhizomes-roots. So why do we put up with this biological parasite?  Well now we do not have too.

Yes we know the summit is a superb heritage in itself and of the highest importance visually and historically to us all in west Cornwall. It is imperative that this should be conserved in its current beauty. But landscaped ecology of the remaining lower areas on both north and south facing slopes without hiding the visual wonderment of the summit is something that we should as a community seriously considers. There is support ostensibly from the Parish and Cornwall Council both in research and hopeful funding via the Local Enterprise Partnership.

Now as you read this as the U.N Climate Talks in Paris are being discussed to determine whether or not we will have a life of environmental balance in the future. One factor which is known to help alleviate climate change (and has not only biological diversity conservation) is the preservation and restoration of natural woodlands/forests globally and of course locally; trees absorb carbon which otherwise would continue to alter the actual chemical structure of our atmosphere and worsen climate change…….It’s your choice, it is our choice, its everyone’s choice. What shall we choose?

(Dr.) Nigel Miles

07415 628628/



The result of the United Nations Framework on the Convention on Climate Change (Cop 21) or colloquially, the U.N. Paris Climate Negotiations declarations on 12/12/2015 will have fundamental impact on our interactions with our ecology across our planet and here locally in Cornwall. With Cornwall being fundamentally and sadly a “Green Desert”(from the biologically diversity position),  it beholds us to become more responsible in regards our footprint on our planet and to consider acting in a direction which is a response to one of the main support petitioning groups in transforming international government response and the current outcome of the negotiations.


In summary, there is a huge potential of interconnecting the fundamental links between climate balance and global ecological integrity and the maintenance of all the biological diversity of our biosphere. The reduction in the levels of carbon based compounds in the biosphere from their current levels of 403ppm down to 350ppm is necessary and it is with this scientific veracity which we need promote such a pragmatic reality. Recognition by referenced ecological professional bodies has acknowledged a need to include this reduction by the process of decarbonising of our atmosphere, but not only by reducing carbon source capitalisation but also by improving sink sequestration. Various professional bodies have made it known that this can be accompanied not just by current land photobiotic processes but by a dynamic expansion to a relative higher percentage (60%) of the terrestrial and aquatic biomes which exist currently as non-alienated and selectively alienated natural biosphere regions for this process. This will achieve the stated objectives of carbon levels required in our atmosphere and within a ten year period of action, preferably by 2025.

This particular scientific dynamism is new and professed by global ecologists including Barry and Wilson. It is both functional and progressive and will begin at last to bring the meaning of ecological literacy to the realms of common humanity. We can begin this action here at Carn Brea; both the world and we are awaiting our responsible actions.

Nigel Miles


[nigel@miles 2015]


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