Article Series

Species loss and rewilding in Cornwall

written and illustrated by Natasha Connor

Many centuries ago, clean rivers rippled across Cornwall. Had you walked by, you may have spotted beavers building dams and otters diving for fish in the sparking water. The songs of countless birds rang through the unpolluted sky. Solitary eagles soared above, scouring the land for hares and grouse. Beyond the rugged cliffs and moorlands, lush temperate rainforests awaited. Lynx, wolverines, and wild boars made their homes beneath the twisting branches.

Today, Cornwall presents a very different picture. It has followed the same path as the rest of the UK, one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. Since the industrial revolution, nearly half of the UK’s biodiversity has been lost, and many of our species now hover on the brink of extinction. This has been catastrophic for our ecosystems. However, there are rays of hope: several organisations are working to reverse this trend, rewilding parts of Cornwall to bring back some of the species we’ve lost.

Rewilding is a progressive conservation strategy that goes beyond protecting natural areas. It aims to restore areas of land to their natural states. This can involve reintroducing lost species, planting trees, or simply allowing nature to reclaim an area. Species reintroductions are integral to the larger rewilding movement. For uncultivated land to thrive, its ecosystem needs to be healthy. This requires a rich diversity of species.

Species loss -why does it matter?

Our native species have been co-evolving for thousands of years. The ecosystems they formed worked like well-oiled machines, with each trophic level dependant on the others in a complex web. When a species is removed, these ‘who eats who’ systems are dramatically altered, and sometimes destroyed.

133 species have gone extinct in the UK since the 1500s, and the decline is accelerating. Since the 1990s, nearly half of terrestrial mammal species and three fifths of butterfly species are found in fewer places, according to the State of Nature Cornwall 2022 report. In addition to the nationwide losses, several species have become locally extinct in Cornwall since the 1970s. This includes 21 breeding birds, 4 vascular plants, and 8 bumblebees.

The effect of species loss ripples through the complex web of food chains. This is known as trophic cascades, and can result in secondary extinctions.

Here’s an example: What happened when sea lions and whales were overfished in Alaska? Their predators, orcas, had to look elsewhere for food. The orcas switched to hunting sea otters and drastically reduced their population. Without the threat of otters, sea urchins were able to multiply unimpeded. These urchins prowled the sea floor, devouring vast forests of kelp. Without kelp forests, many species have been nearly wiped out of the area from starvation. Alaskan sea otters are keystone species: they have an outsized impact on their environment and hold their ecosystems together.

Keystone Species

Many of the UK’s keystone species (and almost all of our large ones) have been hunted to extinction, turning our ecosystems into distorted shadows of what they once were. Keystone species can be divided into three categories: predators, ecosystem engineers, and mutualists.

  • Predators restrict their prey’s population sizes, and therefore protect their prey’s food source. The loss of our apex predators, such as lynx and wolves, resulted in a deer population explosion. Without the predators they’d evolved with, their populations grew unchecked. Deer are believed to be at the highest level they’ve been in 1000 years. In some parts of the UK, this causes significant crop damage and obstructs forest growth.
  • Mutualists are species that interact with others for the benefit of both. Bee and flowering plant species are mutualists. They depend on each other for survival.
  • Ecosystem engineers are species that create, maintain, or destroy habitats. Beavers and water voles are two examples. These two species used to be found throughout Cornwall, creating vital habitats and stabilising the water cycle, but became extinct. A few organisations are now bringing them back, returning crucial components to our broken ecosystems.

Rewilding in Cornwall

Rewilding projects in Cornwall:

Water Voles reintroduced at Bude & Neet river
Beavers reintroduced at Woodland Valley farm
Water Voles reintroduced at Trelusback farm

Water voles

Water voles are believed to be one of the UK’s fastest- declining mammals. Due to habitat loss, water pollution, and predation from invasive minks, they have been extinct in Cornwall since the 1990s.

Their burrowing, grazing, and edibility make them crucial to wetland ecosystems. Their burrows aerate the soil, increasing microbial activity. This, in turn, regulates nitrogen availability and so aids plant growth. Water voles’ wide-ranging diet (and large appetite) prevent shores and riverbanks from becoming overgrown or dominated by a single species, increasing biodiversity. They are also an excellent food source for numerous species, such as barn owls, kestrels, and otters.

In 2013, Westland Countryside Stewards released 100 water voles into the Bude river catchment, and 177 water voles into the Neet river catchment.

They returned to southern Cornwall very recently: in 2022, Kernow Conservation released 150 water voles into Trelusback Farm, a 33 acre natural area near Falmouth. According to Kernow Conservation director Alana Scott, water voles will “hopefully attract predators like herons and owls… and increase plant diversity and microbial activity”.

Benefits of water voles include increased plant diversity from indiscriminate grazing, attraction of predators like owls and herons. Additionally, tunnels aerate the soil, increasing microbial activity - this increases nitrogen availability, aiding plant growth.


Beavers disappeared from the UK 400 years ago, when they were hunted to extinction. They modify their habitats by building dams, burrowing, and tree coppicing. This dramatically alters the landscape. They create wetland comprised of canals, ponds, and mires: vital landscapes for many species. This includes otters, water voles, and numerous types of birds and fish. The dams filter the sediment from rivers, providing a healthier habitat and water source for downstream  animals.

The wetlands store water in the land, and the dams slow river flow. These two aspects reduce both flooding and drought, making land more resilient and resistant to the severe effects of climate change. In addition to reducing climate change’s symptoms, they directly fight the cause: the wetlands and dams they create capture carbon.

In 2017, beavers returned to Cornwall. The Cornwall Beaver Project ran a reintroduction program, enclosing the animals in 5 acres of woodland. Since then, the area has changed dramatically. The dams and ponds the beavers created have slowed river flow, reducing both flash flooding and drought. According to Dr Alan Puttock, a researcher at the University of Exeter, the “peak flows after heavy rainfall events have been reduced by up to 33%”, showing the effectiveness of beavers in flood management. The site has also become more biodiverse: 13 new species have been recorded at the site. One of those was the willow tit, the UK’s most threatened resident bird.

There are a few other beaver enclosures across Cornwall, such as Cabilla Cornwall. However, like at Woodland Valley Farm, these beavers are enclosed in private land. There are no wild beavers in Cornwall. They only became a protected species in 2022, and the current complex licensing regulations make it difficult for organisations to release them into the wild. 

Other reintroduction programs

Red squirrels

The Cornwall Red Squirrel Project is currently working to reintroduce red squirrels to the Lizard Peninsula. These animals were nearly wiped out of the UK when grey squirrels were brought over from North America. Grey squirrels outcompete them, being larger and more robust. This makes red squirrel reintroductions difficult: before they are brought back, the grey squirrel population must be controlled or removed. During lockdown, the grey squirrel population on the Lizard regrew, delaying red squirrel reintroductions.

Cirl buntings

The RSPB reintroduced cirl buntings (the UK’s rarest farmland bird) into the Roseland peninsula, releasing them annually between 2006 and 2011. By 2015, their efforts had resulted in a self-sustaining population with over 50 breeding pairs.

European Wildcats

The UK’s only native cat is returning to Devon and Cornwall. European wildcats were hunted to extinction in Southern England in the 16th century. They are significantly larger than domestic cats, with thicker coats. (The UK’s domestic cats are non-native, descending from African wildcats.) Wildcats are mesopredators: they are mid-ranking in the food chain, preying on small animals like rodents.

40 – 60 individuals are set to be released. The exact locations of their reintroduction sites are secret, for the wildcats’ protection. These shy, solitary animals tend to avoid humans, and are expected to help control rodent and rabbit populations.

Where will we go from here?

This may just be the beginning of Cornwall’s rewilding. As we bring back more species, to more areas, and set aside land for their habitats, our ecosystems may become healthy and thriving once more.

This is vital for Cornwall’s human residents, not only its non-human ones. In the modern world, we often feel disconnected to nature. This is dangerous as it obscures our reliance on it. Healthy ecosystems reduce flooding, drought, and soil erosion. They stabilise climates and provide clean air and water. They also minimise disease: increased biodiversity helps buffer disease transmission. For example, multiple studies on US ecosystems found that those with fewer bird species have higher occurrences of West Nile encephalitis. This is a direct threat to us: two-thirds of our infectious diseases are shared with non-humans.

Public support for species reintroductions is high. Piece by piece, species by species, we can put our damaged ecosystems back together and bring back the stunning natural beauty we’ve lost.

Article Series

The Tin Coast: Cornwall’s mining district

Article and photos by Frankie Hackett

On the last leg of Cornwall before Lands’ End is a stretch of landscape riddled with mining facilities spanning centuries of technological advancement. Colloquially known as the Tin Coast, the area is rich in its connection to the history of the land. Each facility is deeply tragic in and equally insightful of the brutal conditions and fatal disasters that took place throughout the centuries. This article will pay close attention to three facilities in particular, all adjacent to another but yet all distinctly unique in its history. Geevor Tin Mine, Botallack Mine, and the Levant Mine. All can be walked to in one day trip comfortably or can be split if you would prefer to digest each mine at a slower place.

Some of the outstanding views while on the walk

Geevor Tin Mine: A Living Museum

Geevor Tin Mine was the last mine in Cornwall to close, as late as the 1990s. It is now restructured to work as a living museum and many of the remaining mining staff still volunteer with the museum today, taking roles to fix and maintain equipment that still operate in demonstrations to the public. Geevor production of tin became so expertly trained that many of the miners were contracted all over the world for their talent and ability to extract the material. One of the main challenges miners faced while it was under operation was the need to pump millions of litres of water out of the mineshafts, as many extended far out into the adjacent ocean.  Tours of Geevor are available and guide you through the facilities gradually expanding your understanding of the process that went into extracting the tin. The most enthralling part of this tour is the trip underground, to surround yourself in the space in which workers would be in every day for very long hours. Jagged rock walls that barely pushed 5ft high at most wear thin on your back for only the short amount of time you are under the mine, and the darkness coupled with the wet puddled floors makes it a disorienting but immersive experience.

A real political poster inside the changing rooms at Geevor Mine

Levant Mine: A Tragic Disaster

A mere 10 minutes away from Geevor is Levant. Levant is famous for a disaster that has become a legacy for the communities it represents. The mine worked by using a man engine to transport miners up and down. The man engine functioned similar to an elevator but was designed like a ladder. The disaster occurred when one of the rods of the ladder snapped, and in a chain reaction the entire system collapsed down the mine, plummeting over 100 people to near death and killing 31. The effect of the collapse shattered the local’s morale, and the lower levels of the mine were abandoned. The mine closed just 11 years after and is today owned by the National Trust. The peacefulness of the area contrasts against how loud the crushing of machinery must have been.

The Levant Mine, preserved by the National Trust (photo by Jocelyn Herne-Smith)

Botallack Mine: An Ancient Mine?

The last leg of mines is Botallack, the oldest of the three. Records have estimated the age of activity in this mine to stretch for at least the 1500s but could also extend deep into the era of Roman Britain and possibly the Bronze Age. The most insightful story of the area is a cobbled building that resembles what looks to be a stable. Botallack specialised in both copper and tin, but the process required for the extraction and separation brought arsenic alongside it. While arsenic was equally lucrative and was happily sold instead of being waste product, the management required to ensure the safety of those mining it led to the construction of this stable-esque building. Arsenic was piled in separate walled rooms, with workers assigned to shovel with only a cloth over their mouth. Inhaling even a few milligrams of arsenic dust would be enough to kill, but the job of the worker paid a hefty wage for the time because of the risk involved. Much of Botallack waste products would be dumped back into the ocean, and abandoned buildings down the cliffs of the north coast show evidence of this.

A single day’s trip to all three mines is easily manageable, and tours are available from the National Trust at Botallack and Levant, as well as by Geevor independently. What is great about the location of these mines is that they follow a chronological trail from the early modern to present day. Each step of the walk transports you through history as you follow the timeline of great wealth, tragedy, and political movements of the generations of Cornish miners the area represents.

Article Series

Myths of Bodmin Moor

Article by Frankie Hackett. Images courtesy Alex Langstone.

The mystifying presence of Bodmin Moor has led tale to thousands of years of folklore and mythology. The fog swept valleys and areas of flat expanse present a sense of unfamiliarity to visitors who are used to the typical enclosures of fields in the rest of England. It is this position of unfamiliarity that has inspired historical interest for many Cornish people of past and present, and this article is going to explore some of the most infamous and foundational extracts of legendary folklore of the area that has grounded itself in Cornish identity and heritage.

The Beast of Bodmin Moor

Make no mistake in thinking all of these legends are ancient and irrelevant to the modern day. In the late 1970s, an unusual excursion of reports of mutilated livestock on Bodmin Moor stirred local headlines asking questions of how and why this could have happened. Local reported sightings of a large black cat, similar to that of a leopard, stirred rumour and gossip around the area as people grasped to come to terms with the strange chain of slaughtered animals.

Since then, over 60 police reports have been filed claiming to have sighted the mythical beast. These reports ranged from being chased to just spotting an eerily and unnaturally large animal in the distance. Some photo and video evidence exists too, but the verification of this taking place legitimately has not been confirmed.

The legend of the beast has been integral to the local culture of Bodmin Moor. Many believe that the beast has since bred and that more exist out there. In the 1990s, rumours became so serious that an official government investigation concluded this type of beast being compared to a panther could not survive in the UK. Alas, the myth continued as this was still not concrete enough to declare it did not exist.

Theories of how the beast could have surfaced include the illegal importing of three pumas by a circus entertainer in 1978 which were eventually freed, but never declared due to the illicit nature of how they were obtained. Perhaps they bred and found haven in the vast expanses of Bodmin Moor, and perhaps these vast expanses are responsible for explaining why they are rarely sighted and not officially documented. Perhaps this legend will invite you to search for it yourself.

Dozmary Pool

The Legends of King Arthur are possibly the most famous and recognisable tales in all of history. The complex interpolations of events of his life include many locations across Cornwall and in this case entails Dozmary pool in Bodmin Moor.

King Arthurs sword, Excalibur, has many various sources of mythical enquiry! The contradicting stories of his legend by many authors in history all locate the origins of his sword as somewhere different, but one of the core and most believable sources detail that Arthur obtained the sword (which in Cornish is actually called Calesvol) by the lady of the lake who guided him through the mist of Dozmary where he could take the sword out of the stone.

The sword was carried throughout his lifetime but in his final moments he ordered it to be taken back to the lake, where it was thrown by a knight. According to myth, an arm reached up and captured the sword, burying it under the water ever since.

Many believe the sword may still be in Dozmary today, as the legend is so believable due to Bodmin Moors mystique matching the description of the texts. Furthermore, its proximity to Glastonbury, Tintagel and other key locations of Arthurs story further this theory over others that try to match the lake to ones in Normandy, France. Whatever you believe, a trip to the lake is vital in a visit to explore the Moorlands regardless; so be sure to keep an eye out for a glistening under the water.

St Cuby’s Well

Holy Wells are in abundance in Cornwall, hidden in so many beautiful hideaways and secret woodlands. Many are a source of great fortune to religious people, blessed by God to bring luck and healing. It is for this reason that so many are ornately crafted and carefully preserved.

However, not all of these Holy Wells have maintained their mythical status for positive reasons. A well, constructed by St Cuby in 480AD, has a story behind it that make the area feel more cursed than blessed. St Cuby created a chapel and wanted to feature a hand-crafted bowl with dolphins and griffins to celebrate and remember his time travelling. He was immensely proud of his creation but anxious of thieves looking to take from his sight and so cursed the bowl for anyone who may remove it.

For many decades, the locals were aware of this curse and frightened enough to respect the well’s status. However, one day a spiteful farmer decided to test the curse, bringing all four of his strongest oxen to transport the well for himself. On arriving at the well, every oxen pulled as hard as they could but one by one all collapsed and died. The farmer, in complete shock, returned home empty handed with neither the well nor his strongest oxen.

Today the bowl has been moved to the local parish church. To some, the curse is said to have passed itself onto whoever decided to move it. To others, its movement into a new place of worship meant the curse did not trigger. Both the well and the bowl are available to visit and see, so when visiting Bodmin Moor, be sure to try and locate both. Please, however, do not try and test this curse for you may suffer ill fate for the rest of your life!

The folklore and mythology circulating Cornwall is what brings the land to life. The stories like those above are only a small cut from centuries of tales told by the residents who live here. The connection of Cornish people to the land and to the stories embedded within the land is what sets apart Cornish identity to other cultures in the UK. Bodmin Moor is usually suffocated in fog and thus you will find yourself unlucky to stay in the area and not experience the eerie but enchanting nature of the environment it has to offer when the fog sweeps in. However, only visit on the condition that you stay vigilant of beasts, can promise you wont steal any wells and that you keep a look out for anything shining under the waters of Lakelands.

Article Series

The Commercialisation of Lands’ End

Article by Frankie Hackett

The westernmost point of mainland England is as famous as it gets. Lands’ End is doused in hundreds of years of folklore, cultural reference, and stories. As the area has become more popular as a tourist site in Cornwall, businesses have flourished trying to sell its legend as a point of interest. The history of these commercial ventures are a key grounding in the historical foundation of what makes Cornwall such a unique and distinct place. From the First and Last Inn to the famous Lands’ End signpost, read on to discover a somewhat chronological path of how the commercialisation of Lands’ End has come to be and why more than 500,000 visitors from all over the globe travel to Lands’ End every year!

The First and Last Inn

The First and Last Inn was a place for the many visitors of the headland to stop and rest as they toured Cornwall. Built over 700 years ago, it is said that as many as 100 people could be present at one time during the lifetime of the Inn, especially during the 17th century and into the Victorian era. Situated in the local village of Sennen, the Inn landowners built another outhouse further to the actual lands’ end to look after the horses the tourists used to reach the area. This outhouse was eventually repurposed into the hotel it is today. The Inn itself still operates for the public, too and is rich in its history as a centre for smugglers and the criminal underworld due to its remote location but easily navigable path to France where illicit goods would be imported in the 1800s. Used by the smugglers to evade the government’s eye, the Inn has access to many hidden passages and tunnels such as a well which are still available to view today.

The First and Last Inn. Image courtesy Cornwall Guide.

Greeb Farm

It is unknown how old Greeb Farm is, but it is very old! While no longer actually farming, the small farm has been conserved and for a fee tourists can visit and see the plethora of farm animals ranging from turkeys to goats. The farm also sells decorative handmade items using material from Cornwall only.

The Hotel

Developed from the horse stable owned by the First and Last Inn in the 1800s, the hotel on Lands’ End has expanded itself into a luxury venue for an expensive but beautiful experience. The hotel was developed to cater to the huge influx of visitors that developed during the Victorian era, as the growth of demand for getaways grew as the cities grew more foul.

Image courtesy Lands End Hotel

Lands’ End to John O’ Groats

One of the earliest records of the journey from Lands’ End to John O’ Groats was in 1879. This famous expedition takes you to the northernmost point of Scotland down to the tip of Cornwall (or vice versa) The journey has become a commercialised venture through the hundreds of charitable causes it helps to promote. Millions of pounds have been raised by sponsors for members of the public to make the distance by whatever means possible. The standard is usually cycling, but people over the years have been intuitive in what form of transportation they use to get from A to B, from walking to exclusively using public transportation.

The Signpost

The famous Lands’ End signpost is the most important place to take a photograph for any tourist visiting. It has become such a convention that it is now a stamp of proof that you have made the journey to the end of the land! The signpost was built in the 1950s and was made into a product by enabling people to edit the sign to show the distance to your hometown for a fee. The signpost also includes the distance to New York, John O’ Groats (owned by the same company) and the sometimes-visible Isles of Scilly.

The famous signpost.

The Shopping Village

When a new company took over Lands End in 1996, the commercialisation of Lands End entered into overdrive as an entire shopping village, children’s playground and a theme park were constructed. Biweekly in August, a fireworks display is also hosted to pull additional tourists. The theme park is sponsored by various media companies at different points usually catering to new animated films or series for children. The shopping village sells many local Cornish products from independent businesses as well as external franchises which helps to promote the Cornish identity and bring wealth to the area.

The journey of Lands’ End commercialisation reflects on a wider scale on that of Cornwall itself. From the humble begins of Greeb Farm, Lands’ End existence was for subsistence only. As trade and commerce grew in the 1600s, foreign goods from mainland Europe circulated the region and held host to the growth of the Inn used by smugglers. In the 1800s, the desire for getaway and pleasure of the wealthy classes opened up Lands End to a touristic market and by today this excelled to the set up of the headland today. Cornwall itself is experiencing this same experience, as the growth of the tourist industry either provides great wealth or tears the soul out of the culture of the land depending on your perspective.

Article Series

Kennal Vale: Hidden woodland with more than meets the eye

Article and Photographs by Frankie Hackett

Along the backroads of Ponsanooth, a quaint Cornish village, is one of the most captivating and underrated walks in the entire county. It has all the traditional aspects of your favourite place to go for a walk, like canopied trees and dramatic glades, but Kennall Vale also hosts a very unique feature that places it leagues above your typical trail: gunpowder factories.

One of the old factory ruins adjacent to the Kennall River

Littering the woodlands, the remnants of historical industrial Britain sit adjacent to historical natural Britain. The gunpowder facilities, mostly made out of granite stone, tell stories of the workers who once laboured in the valley. The Kennall River is where most buildings settle next to, because the steep and fast flowing water provide an incredible amount of power for the water mills still visible today. These mills would power the entire operation needed to extract, compress, and manufacture the gunpowder.

The use of the river for power becomes more intriguing when remembering the fragility required to develop gunpowder. The alternative for the time, steam power, would require coal and fire. This would lead to certain disaster. Furthermore, the water on hand would make it easy to eliminate outbreaks of fire in the event of an emergency. Despite this, 13 major and deadly explosions were reported in a space of 70 years.

Huge cog mechanisms used to turn the mill

Further afield in the ruins are what appear to be the foundations of facilities used by the workers, such as a changing house where workers would change into clothes. Fireplaces, doorways, and windows are still in plain sight to explore. The preservation of the ruins makes Kennall Vale incredibly immersive. The hammering of the waterfalls contrasted against the huge metal cogs inserts you into a battlefield between nature and humanity. This narrative becomes layers deeper when thinking of the placement of where the woodland trees were planted and why.

While the woodland was present before the mine, the vale was not deforested to make space for the factories. Instead, the woodland was required to protect from potential explosions, taking brunt of the force from frequently reported accidents on-site. The trees were planted in key locations to mask most of the blast. While on the surface it may feel like nature is trying to reclaim itself, it appears this fight is more controlled than first thought. Even the river was shaped with leats and slats to control the flow and the direction of the water.

Slats used to shut the flow of water

The location of the factories was also picked due to its proximity to lucrative geological hotspots, this subsequently led most of the gunpowder produced to be shipped locally to the mines located in and around Cornwall. On the entrance to Kennall Vale is also an old granite quarry, now filled with water making a nice feature for local wildlife to inhabit. The granite mined from this quarry provided the building material required to build what was once 50 independent structures.

The Gunpowder company went under just before World War 1 in 1910, lasting for 100 years. The reason for its demise ties to a shift in technology that made gunpowder less valuable as well as the greater wave of the closure of the mines in Cornwall. In the century since, the area has become a nature reserve with free access year-round and since 1985 is owned by Cornwall Wildlife Trust. Some of the wildlife today include the Pipistrelle Bat and Dippers, friendly and fat little birds.

The quarry, now filled with water

Despite its location sounding very off the beaten track, it is easy to get to. Just a quick drive from Penryn, Truro or Redruth will take you to Ponsanooth, where it is best to park in the village, as the road by the entrance to Kennall Vale is not suitable for parking. A short walk up a hill will bring you to the entrance, boasting beautiful views of the valley before you envelop yourself into the history of the woodland.

Article Series

Why Microplastics are not a Micro Problem

by Katie Trahair-Davies

Walk along any beach in Cornwall and if you look close enough you will discover tiny plastic pellets hidden among the sand. Commonly known as microplastics, these pellets are wreaking havoc in our oceans. They are a silent killer that is polluting and causing irreversible damage to our oceans and planet. 

What Are Microplastics?

Microplastics’ is a general definition for any tiny piece of plastic less than five millimetres (0.2 inches) in diameter. They come in many different forms, but the most common types that can be found on the beaches today include:

  • Microbeads: tiny plastic particles purposefully added to cosmetic or hygiene products
  • Nurdles: ‘small plastic pellets about the size of a lentil’ which are produced for the purpose of melting and moulding into plastic products.
  • Secondary microplastics: pellets that start as larger plastic items but are gradually worn down by external factors (eg: bright sunlight or constant battering by waves) until they become individual fragments of plastic.

The origins of these microplastics washing up on our shores are usually everyday activities undertaken by all of us, such as showering or using a plastic bottle. Many popular cosmetic brands take advantage of the exfoliating properties offered by tiny particles of plastics like polyethylene, polystyrene or polypropylene, and can pack over 330,000 of these microbeads into a single tube of their products. Whilst this statistic is disturbing in its own right, it is the knowledge that one shower using these products can send up to 100,000 of the tiny plastic pieces drown the drain that truly illustrates how much each person could potentially be contributing to this rapidly escalating crisis.

Their Effects On Animal And Human Health

Once in the sea, microplastics affect everything in the oceanic ecosystem- both zooplankton and larger sea animals mistake the tiny pieces of plastics for other sea life and ingest them. Although it is easy for some people to remain unaware of this part of the problem because it doesn’t have an impact on their daily life, once the negative impacts start to appear along our coastlines it becomes impossible to ignore. The microplastic problem has quickly evolved into a global issue and nowhere is exempt from its affects, not even Cornwall.

Microplastics is an issue for every environment, every country, and every society

Emily Stevenson, Beach Guardian

In 2019, it was discovered that in a study of 50 marine mammals found in British waters, every single animal had evidence of microplastics in their digestive system. Last year the University of Exeter conducted similar research on demersal sharks living off the coast of Cornwall and found that 67% of the 46 sharks studied contained microplastics and other man-made fibres. The plastics the sharks had ingested were almost exclusively microfibres- suspected to originate from face masks and textiles. This being only one example of how microplastics affect Cornish Sea life, it is reasonable to assume that many more species along the county’s coast are accidentally ingesting microplastics too. Furthermore, the sad fact is that these pollutants do not sit inert within the animals. Scientists are beginning to discover that microplastics are changing the ways animals fundamentally function– with evidence that these plastics alter their feeding behaviour by decreasing hunger for actual food and blocking their digestive tracts- to name but two of the serious consequences that can occur.

As more shocking statistics are released about microplastics,it is increasingly apparent that their impact is not limited to wildlife, but that they affect the human species too. The true danger of microplastics is that- uniquely from other larger forms of plastics- they have the ability to make their way into our food chain largely unnoticed. Despite this, many people remain unaware that this is occurring and, more worryingly still, there is limited research on the effects it may have on human health.

The Problem In Cornwall And Beyond

This is not a problem that Cornwall is exempt from. Historically South West Water has used toxic biobeads as a way of cleaning water, and this has proven to be dangerous to the local environment. Over 10 years ago a spill at SWW’s treatment centre outside of Truro led to over one billion biobeads being spilt into the Fall estuary. There is now evidence that these same biobeads have entered local food chains: an investigation lead by the University of Plymouth discovered that when looking at the digestive matters of a gull found downstream of the Estuary, almost half of the contents found were the biobeads earlier discovered in the surrounding waters. It is not a huge leap of the imagination to assume that these same beads found in local wildlife are already in our food and water.

Despite the UK government banning the production and use of these plastics for cosmetic or hygiene products in 2018, there is yet to be any slowing of these beads appearing on our beaches and in the ocean. Whilst the ban was a huge step in the right direction, the influx of microplastics will only start to slow when a larger proportion of countries enact bans on the production and usage of this type of plastic. Emily Stevenson of environmental charity Beach Guardian said that “People may be aware that there is now a ban, but they weren’t necessarily aware why that ban came into force and what products had the microplastics in”.

She continued: “All of our bodies are getting polluted with microplastics, the air that we breath is polluted with microplastics, the water that we drink is polluted with microplastics, and yet there are no visual tools for us to communicate this”. It is this invisibility that is making the spread of microplastics so harmful and also exacerbating ignorance. Although we are already swimming amongst them when we take a dip in the sea, walking on them hidden in the sand and they pollute almost every aspect of our lives, the majority of people remain unaware of this, and for those who have more knowledge of the issue the size of the pollutants can lead to a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

With microplastics quickly becoming one of the main causes of plastic pollution in the oceanic world, it is imperative that people very quickly become more educated about this issue, how they might be inadvertently contributing to it and what we all need to do to address it. However, this is too big a problem for the public to tackle by itself unless there is increased backing from governments all over the world. A global issue like this calls for global awareness and a united global response- and fast.   

Article Series

Seaspiracy or local, sustainable fishing?

by Emilia Griffin

It goes without saying that for many living in Cornwall, fishing is a big part of their lives. It is also a major part of the Cornish and UK economy.

The recent documentary, Seaspiracy, directed by filmmaker Ali Tabrizi investigates the environmental impact of fishing and seeks to expose the dark secrets in industrial fishing. Tabrizi interviews scientists and members of marine organisations such as Sea Shepherd and Marine Stewardship Council. The documentary highlights that “sustainable” has become a buzzword of sorts. The EU commissioner of fisheries and environment described sustainable as putting 100 Euros into the bank and only spending the interest and that this is how it should be with fishing.

Since the documentary was released, it has received criticism that some interviews and facts have been taken out of context. Perhaps Ali Tabrizi was telling a story through his filmmaking? It was emotional to watch, and this compels us to make new positive choices.

Fish populations are in decline due to overfishing, disease, pollution, invasive species and climate change. One third of fish stocks were considered to be overfished in the Living Planet Report by WWF. There is a delicate balance in ecosystems, and this decline would lead to decreased food availability for other marine animals. The fishing industry has a responsibility to protect the oceans so that there will still be stocks available in years to come to provide further jobs.

I spoke with Chris Ranger of Fal Oyster Ltd and Fal Fishery Cooperative CIC to learn more about his methods of fishing and how he is looking to increase populations of the native oyster in the Fal Estuary. Native oysters are important because they are a keystone species that filter the water making it better quality for other species to thrive. One oyster can filter almost 200 litres of water a day. The small estuary is dredged by hand, sail, and oar to harvest the oysters, but this also helps to prevent silt and has been done this way in the Fal Fishery for many centuries.

Ranger’s aim is to have a managed hatchery where hopefully the survival rate of native oyster larvae is increased. These managed stocks will provide important data on how the juveniles best survive and what the population size is in the estuary. This is a sustainable method of fishing because only the larger, older oysters are harvested when they have left many recruits and the stocks will be replenished by retaining the juveniles for longer, whilst allowing a responsible income to be made from selling the oysters. The aquaculture research site means that young oysters will be caught and kept in trays to grow and repopulate while older, larger oysters can be caught and sold.

The larger oysters for market must be purified in the processing tanks before selling them on, which allows them to be sold for more and provides more jobs. In 2008 the UK voted for a shellfish ban on ‘third countries’ from class B waters unless the shellfish is purified before selling. When we left the EU this meant nearly all UK waters were not clean enough to be sold unpurified. The purification process is at an extra cost and time to some fishermen and when we first left the EU there were delays importing goods, which put the shellfish at risk of dying and caused a loss for some fishermen. However, Ranger commented that he did not sell a lot abroad and so the COVID-19 lockdown had a larger impact on his sales than Brexit has done as he was already purifying his oysters before sales. Lockdown has massively impacted sales to restaurants and means that many fishermen have relied on home deliveries much more.

Chris Ranger has an ongoing Crowdfunder to raise money for the SavingEster Campaign, which was built from the first year of donations. The next stage is building the research vessel for the aquaculture site, which will be required for collecting scientific data that can be used to encourage the prevention of overfishing of the juveniles and move towards better fishing regulations for future generations. If you can, this is an important fundraiser to contribute to whether you love eating oysters, care about the local economy or care about the environment.

Seaspiracy provided us with a worrying insight into the reality of industrial fishing and has seen many since give up eating fish. However, for some this is not an easy option. Fortunately, there are still fishermen who are hopeful for the future of local fisheries if the right regulations are put into place and consumers make sensible choices by supporting local, sustainable suppliers.

Article Series

Museums in Cornwall – A journey through industry, science and art

by Emilia Griffin

Cornwall has a lot to offer across the county, from the larger, more interactive and modern museums to the little, local museums dotted around different parishes showcasing local history and offering an insight into society of the past and present. This list is not exhaustive by any means but offers a guide to museums that may interest you – whether a local or a tourist wanting to find out more about Cornwall, technology and science, art and social history.

Our tour of museums takes us from the far South West all the way to North Cornwall.

As highlighted by the Cornwall Museums Partnership, Cornwall has a wealth of brilliant museums, many of which include exhibits with links to science and the community. To find something to do wherever you are in the Duchy, follow us on this virtual tour:

PK Porthcurno · Geevor Tin Mine, St Just · Penlee House, Penzance · Tate St Ives · Museum of Cornish Life, Helston · National Maritime Museum, Falmouth · Falmouth Art Gallery · Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro · Wheal Martyn, St Austell · Eden Project, St Austell · Bodmin Keep · Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle

PK Porthcurno

We start our journey in the South West of Cornwall at PK Porthcurno, the UK’s only museum dedicated to global communications. The first international telegraph cable was run from India to Porthcurno, or PK, in 1870 and reduced the message time from 6 weeks to just 9 minutes. This was revolutionary for global communications and the beginning of the science and technology that underpins the world today. The museum takes you through the history of electricity, morse code, telegraph and the future of technology for communications with a series of interactive exhibitions and informative talks. While we patiently wait for indoor entertainment to open again, head over to CSC Youtube channel to watch a talk with Paul Tyreman to celebrate 150 years since the cable station opened. Also make sure to head to the beautiful golden sands in the bay of Porthcurno.

Geevor Tin Mine

Next, we head up to St Just to visit the Geevor Tin Mine to learn the story of the tin and copper mining industry in Cornwall. Here you can visit the mining buildings and enter the 18th century Wheal Mexico Mine and walk the tunnels of the mining men over 200 years ago or pan for “gold” in the mill. The Dry is a truly moving experience as the change room is left as it was when it was used for the last time with all the smells and sights that the miners would have known well. Geevor is a truly fascinating day out learning about the science behind and importance of metals mined in Cornwall.

Penlee House

Penlee House in Penzance is up next. Here we have galleries with an art collection celebrating Cornish talent from the 19th and 20th centuries. The museum’s collection covers over 6000 years of history in the West of Cornwall through archaeology, social history, natural science and of course art and photography. The house is set in a beautiful park grounds with a shop and café on offer too.

Tate St. Ives

Next stop, St Ives. Here Tate St Ives over-looks the beautiful sandy beach of Porthmeor bringing visitors from all over the world. Whilst the Tate is not a local organisation, many of the exhibitions showcase the artists of Cornwall. A significant artist to note is Barbara Hepworth who was a leader in artists who fled to St Ives during both wars. Just down the road is a museum dedicated to her and her sculpture garden. Here you can also see many other famous artists from around the world including works by Picasso and Matisse. This is a must see if you want to get to all the Tate galleries!

Museum of Cornish Life

The Museum of Cornish Life is a free admission must see back down in Helston. Here is a collection of Cornish history artefacts from farming to toys to gardening and musical instruments. Dotted around all of Cornwall are many voluntary run museums displaying social history artefacts for that particular area. This is potentially unrivalled by any other county due to Cornwall’s interesting communities with fishing and mining.

National Maritime Museum & Falmouth Art Gallery

Falmouth is next, a town influenced by the sea and its maritime heritage. Here we have the National Maritime Museum and Falmouth Art Gallery. The National Maritime Museum explores the influence of sea on history and culture. An interactive and immersive experience takes you around Cornwall and the world. The current exhibition is Monsters of the Deep learning about legends, folklores and modern-day science. Head over to our Youtube channel again for a talk about the evolution of sailing dinghies by Reuben Thompson who is the in-house boatbuilder. Falmouth Art Gallery is another outstanding collection of British and Cornish artworks all available to view for free.

Royal Cornwall Museum

Now we move on to the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro, Cornwall’s only city, which promotes excellence in science and art and tells stories of Stone Age Cornwall to current artefacts.  The museum is part of the Cornwall Museums Partnership.

“Cornwall Museums Partnership develop and manage collaborative programmes of work which are designed to help museums raise standards, engage with more people and to be sustainable and resilient. We help museums to do the things that some find difficult to do on their own including advocacy, audience development, fundraising and workforce development. We are always open to suggestions of ways to collaborate in inclusive and innovative ways: if people want to find out more, have any questions or ideas please contact us on

Celine Elliot, Cornwall Museums Partnership Engagement Lead

Wheal Martyn

We move east to Wheal Martyn near St Austell. In the UK’s only china clay mining museum you can learn how the industry has shaped the lives and landscapes of Cornwall. Here you can go to an interactive discovery centre, woodland walks with local wildlife, historic trails and a real modern working clay pit. The china clay industry is less well known than the tin and copper mining industries but is an important contributor to the national economy. Wheal Martyn produces china clay, a material that is used in items such as paper and pharmaceuticals in our everyday life.

Eden Project

Close by is The Eden Project which is a collection of huge Biomes housing plants from all over the world, including the world’s biggest indoor rainforest. There are also outside gardens with many native and temperate region plants. The water used at the Eden Project is harvested rainwater and the buildings have underground irrigation for plants and flushing loos. Here we learn the significance of the relationship between plant and people and how this can help us to address the crisis the planet faces.

Bodmin Keep

Heading north is Bodmin Keep, a centre of Cornish and world history to educate people of all ages about conflict and the impact of war. The Keep is the historic home of the army in Cornwall and teaches 300 years of military history. The museum is a testament to soldiers, their families and the affected local communities.

Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

Finally, on the North Coast is Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle which explores British magical practice and makes comparisons with other systems of belief. Learn about the diversity of magical practice through entertaining exhibitions and the collection of objects which has been described as the largest in the world.

This list of some of the main museums should hopefully provide you with something to do whatever the weather and something to get you excited to learn again. Cornwall has a lot to offer and teach about its social history and importance of different industries. We should take these opportunities to get learning when these experiences are offered to us by volunteers at little cost. We are lucky to live in such an incredible place with so much science to offer.

Article Series

The Cornwall Geothermal Rum Distillery: a valuable asset or cause for conflict?

by Jessica Forsyth

Image credit: Grimshaw Architects

When you think of Cornwall and rum, your initial thoughts may be of the county’s notorious smuggling history.  Indeed, in the 18th and 19th century, Cornwall was a centre for smuggling of goods such a tea, tobacco and of course, rum. There are many stories, including the famous novel ‘Jamaica Inn’ by Daphne du Maurier, that tell the tale of wreckers who would entice ships to the coastline before looting them when they inevitably ran aground on the rocky shores.

But what if instead, your first thought was of a pioneering project that harnessed renewable geothermal energy to mature and distill rum right here in Cornwall? Well, this is the hope of the Cornish Geothermal Distillery Company (CGDC) who have ambitious plans to create the UK’s first geothermal run maturation facility and distillery on land in Redruth, Cornwall.  

Image credit: Grimshaw Architects

About the Project

The United Downs Deep Geothermal Power Project (UDDGP) is the first geothermal power plant in the UK. It aims to utilise the hot granite rocks below the United Downs Industrial Site to generate power and heat.  The CGDC’s plan is to make a direct connection to the power plants waste heat output and boost it to run heat intensive distillery processes. To do this they aim to use an innovative high temperature heat pump that they are developing alongside global engineering consultancy, Buro Happold. This would go a long way to making it one of the most sustainable and carbon-neutral distillery projects in the UK.

The CGDC’s efforts to prioritise and champion sustainability has been recognised through their receipt of the largest single award from the UK Government’s Green Distilleries Competition which aims to fund the development of technologies that enable distilleries to use low carbon fuel.  These awards form part of the governments commitment to “building back greener” from the Covid-19 pandemic. Clean Growth Minister Kwasi Kwarteng believes that these awards will allow “UK distilleries to lead the way…in the green industrial revolution…while also creating jobs”.

However, despite this support from the UK government, and the project’s potential for providing “much-needed investment and quality full-time jobs…in this part of Cornwall”“much-needed investment and quality full-time jobs utilizing local skills and businesses in this part of Cornwall”, the original project’s progress through planning has come to a standstill due to a conflict arising from the land on which the rum maturation facility’s designs were initially drawn up.

Concern over the site

In the 18th century, this area of land at United Downs was used for mining and forms part of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site. UNESCO and Historic England have expressed a great deal of concern regarding the potential environmental impact of the project and claim that it ‘risks damaging one of Cornwall’s prized natural landscapes’. Although they have expressed their support for the economic and employment benefits that the project aims to provide for the local area, they wish for an alternative location for its construction to be found.

CGDC’s concept requires proximity to the geothermal power plant and in their Design and Access Statement for the original plan they argue that the ‘development has the potential to offer long-term security for the site and its mining heritage’ and claim that they are committed to provide funding to contribute towards ‘restoration of the mining heritage on and around the site boundary’ as well as ‘offering World Heritage and Cornish mining related literature’ in the Visitor Centre. In spite of CGDC’s promise to spend £2 million decontaminating the site and restoring heritage features that have been heavily eroded, Historic England and UNESCO’s intervention means the original project’s future is now uncertain.

The conflict over the use of this site also comes from the current leaseholders, Purple Cornwall Ltd, also known as Autospeed, who currently use the site for stock racing. According to a statement by Cornwall council ‘Purple Cornwall’s lease with the Council to operate their stock car racing business on Cornwall owned land at United Downs runs until October 2021.’ Autospeed fear that with alternative sites for the racetrack yet to be found, the council’s plans to look for ‘low carbon and sustainable alternative uses for the site’, such as the distillery, may signify the end of stock racing in Cornwall for good. Calls to save the motor sport venue are being made by The Save United Downs Raceway Action Group and have been backed by former Renault Formula 1 racing driver Derek Warwick.

The concern shown by UNESCO/Historic England for the protection of this world heritage site from degradation caused by the construction of the distillery is somewhat confusing when considering its current use. Undoubtedly over the 50 years during which the site has been used as a racetrack, it will have suffered from erosion and continuing to use the site in this way would seem to conflict with the aim of preserving the heritage of the Cornwall Mining Landscape.

Cornwall council have said that ‘In preparation for when the lease expires in 2021, the Council is looking at low carbon and sustainable alternative uses for the site’ that ‘contribute to economic growth’ and provide ‘job opportunities in the area’. It seems, regardless of whether the distillery plans go ahead on this site or not, the racetrack has a small chance of being able to continue to exist at this site, but, with the support of the Council, will hopefully be able to relocate and continue to provide ‘a safe, controlled environment’ for ‘followers of racing, and for families who are looking for that great day out with a difference’ to enjoy.

Looking ahead

CGDC’s determination to safeguard their green, job-creating, sustainable project has seen them submit a new outline planning application for a much smaller research and development proposal. This project would be built on the hard edge of the former United Downs landfill site – a brownfield site that currently has no designation and is situated directly next to the Geothermal Energy Plant. The “Celsius – Sustainable Distillery Research Centre” will make use of the aforementioned high temperature heat pump to operate a copper still for distilling rum and a small facility to mature rum in casks. This Celsius Centre is a separate scheme from CGDC’s pioneering Rum Cask Maturation Facility and would have no biome or visitor centre, no public access and would create 6 full-time jobs. Its true value lies in its focus on the development of green technologies that will not only enable the distillery ‘industry to make vast improvements in energy efficiency’ but will also allow other ‘enterprises to use waste heat from other industrial processes too’.

The research conducted at this Centre and the technologies developed would undoubtedly act as important foundations for the shift to a green economy post pandemic and would contribute to increased focus on sustainability ‘in the distillery sector and beyond’. In a time when Cornwall Council has declared a climate emergency, surely supporting the development of a project that is committed to the creation of green jobs and ‘revolutionising sustainability’ should be part of the action plan to achieve a cleaner and greener Cornwall.

Image credit: Grimshaw Architects

To keep up with project developments please go to  

Article Series

Combining Art with Science: a new Cornish museum?

by Jessica Forsyth

On a sunny day in Cornwall there are plenty of activities to enjoy outdoors, whether it be a long walk along the coastal path or a refreshing dip in the sea. But on a day where the weather is not so pleasant, there is a lack of indoor activities to turn to, particularly for those with young and inquisitive children.

Discovering 42 are a community interest company that have recognised this and believe that Cornwall would benefit greatly from the opening of a museum that combines art with science and sustainability.

They are currently raising funds via their Crowdfunder page with the aim of setting up a pilot exhibition for a period of 6 months. During this time, they hope that high footfall will prove that there is a keen interest and desire for this type of attraction and hope to go on to make it a permanent fixture for the region to enjoy.

On their website, Discovering 42 state that they ‘want to challenge the misconceptions that art is frivolous and science is perplexing’. In other words, they wish to demonstrate that art can be an extremely effective and captivating method of conveying important messages. In this particular instance, they aim to use the skill and talent of local Cornish artists to create exhibits that will be, where possible, crafted using recycled or waste materials. They wish to show that when you combine art with science, you are able to engage people on issues they might not have otherwise shown an interest in, in a much more effective way.

Indeed, some of the most memorable pieces of artworks I have seen are where an artist has used their skill and talent to convey a message of importance, typically a message related to an environmental issue or issue of sustainability. One such example is a piece of art known as “Skyscraper” which is a sculpture of a whale made of over five tons of plastic that was found in the Pacific and Atlantic ocean. This sculpture was designed by architects and designers from STUDIOKCA and has been toured around the word. 

I think there is much to be said for the pairing of art and science. Looking back in history, art has long been used as a method for documenting scientific discoveries or progression. An example of this is of Marianne North’s paintings of tropical plants. In her 40’s, Marianne decided she would travel the world and document the worlds flora through paintings. She was an acquaintance of Charles Darwin, who is said to have considered her paintings as excellent examples of his theory of natural selection. Her paintings can be seen to provide a visual accompaniment that aid the understanding of the writings of Darwin, once again demonstrating the benefits that can result from the coupling of art with science.

Cornwall is undoubtedly  ‘a region with creativity at its heart’ and has provided the world with exceptional engineers, scientists and artists. Having a museum where this can be celebrated and recognised would be a great asset to the region and contribute to achieving progress on the CSC’s key ambition of increasing the number of people who are actively engaged and involved with science in Cornwall.

Of course, Cornwall has many other museums to offer that showcase various cultural and historical aspects of the region, such as its maritime links and mining history, that are all worth a visit. In fact, the CSC is currently working closely with the Cornwall Museums Partnership to find a way to support the virtual showcasing of such attractions. So, if you’re interested in finding out more about some of the interesting museums that Cornwall has to offer, do keep your eyes peeled for more information in the coming months!