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We have just received this report from Heritage Action member Alan S:

Following the recent gorse fire which got out of control, I visited Mulfra Quoit yesterday to see for myself the extent of the damage. The road to the east of the hill provides the shortest approach to the quoit, and the fire damage extended all the way to the road on this side, halfway along the hill, continuing to the north.

As I climbed the hill, approaching the quoit from the east, the extent of the fire could easily be seen., not having touched the southeast of the hill. Although the fire did not appear to have damaged any roots, much of the above ground growth was burnt and blackened, and there was still a smell of soot in the air. Here and there were small islands of green, where for some reason the fire had not taken hold. And among the blackened plants, spots of brilliant white, fresh bird droppings showing that some had escaped the carnage and returned to start anew.

After a few minutes I reached the brow of the hill, and saw the quoit to the west, sitting within a patch of unburnt grass, seemingly unharmed. The nearest scorch marks came within ten feet or so of the quoit, which obviously had a close call.

I walked south for a few minutes, but did not reach the extent of the burning. I returned to the quoit and took the path west for a similar distance, with similar results. I returned again, and finally headed north, back toward the car. Some ten minutes later, I was still well within the burnt area, showing how vast an area of heathland had been damaged. And yet some plants already had signs of new growth, indicating that although the habitat of countless animals, insects and birds had been destroyed, the landscape will somehow recover.

So how and why did the fire happen? Newspaper reports suggest that a controlled burn, originally ordered by Natural England(NE) had got out of control due to ‘high winds’ – a fairly constant factor on the hill. The Save Penwith Moors campaign (SPM) have a long running argument with NE, not just over this fire, but over various aspects of management of the moor, which SPM claim has been managed successfully without intervention from NE for generations. The new suggestions for moors management are objected to by local people, who feel they no longer have a voice in their own area – so much for localism!

But what of the archaeology? There’s no doubt that there is an opportunity after an incident such as this to identify previously hidden structures, and there is already a lot of known archaeology on the hill, but SPW are taking the stance that any archaeology is now at risk of erosion from the elements.

NE say they are ‘investigating’ the cause of the fire, SPM say that NE are the main factor as they don’t understand the local situation. This one could run and run.

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