Cornish Ancient Sites
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Background

The Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN) was conceived in 1997, and established as a registered Trust in 2000. We came together as a group of representatives from a wide range of organisations, all of us concerned about protecting the ancient sites. In part these concerns were in response to disturbing incidents such as the attempted theft of one of the Merry Maiden stones, the arsonist attacks on the Men-an-Tol and Lanyon Quoit, and fears over the numbers of visitors anticipated at the 1999 Solar Eclipse. But there were other ongoing concerns related to access, conservation and responsible site use.

Initially our work focused on West Penwith, although our aim has always been to extend our reach throughout Cornwall. West Penwith is an area of Cornwall that has the highest concentration of ancient sites in Western Europe (several thousand). Because of its natural beauty it is an attractive tourist destination, and over the years ancient sites have become ever more popular. Unfortunately this growing public interest has meant that the sites are frequently overused and misused. And many of the ancient sites also suffer from neglect.

Ancient sites are in theory protected by law through the designation of Ancient Scheduled Monuments, but in reality this legislation does not afford adequate protection. The increasing pressure of people combined with environmental changes is a constant threat that is insufficiently addressed by statutory bodies such as English Heritage and the Cornwall County Council’s Historic Environment Service (HES). These organisations are responsible for protecting the heritage landscape, but unfortunately their resources are severely limited. The National Trust does a good job of managing the sites that fall on their own land, but by far the majority of sites are privately owned, and these landowners do not always have the knowledge, time, financial means or resources to effectively care for sites on their land.

CASPN was founded to address these issues, and for the first time brought together a seemingly disparate committee of representatives from both mainstream establishment organizations and alternative user groups.
partnership with the wider community united by one vision: to safeguard our ancient heritage for the future.

English Heritage and Cornwall County Council’s Historic Environment Service are the primary statutory bodies responsible for the heritage environment in Penwith, but their resources are severely limited and their role is restricted to that of monitoring and reacting to specific monuments. They are not able to provide the proactive, strategic management that is required to safeguard this heritage asset. There are other organisations and community groups that have an interest in ancient sites, but currently there is a lack of co-operation and co-ordination in their protection and care.