Last Bank Holiday my wife and I spent some time exploring the centrepiece of the Bronze Age Cornish economy. It sits atop a majestic hill on Penwith moors, above Morvah. It was both strongroom and trading centre, holding stocks and managing the European tin market.
In the Bronze Age, Cornwall was at the core of the European economy. Somebody recently told me that the bronze columns in Solomon's Temple included Cornish tin. In order to command the best price, to control quality and supply, the Cornish built Chun Castle on Carn Kenidjack, a high point from which traders and security men could survey the whole of the surrounding landscape – essential to prevent robberies and to know who was coming to trade. Presumably, there were many voices raised in protest when the Bronze Age Council considered the planning application for Carn Kenidjack Innovation Centre!
Just along the path is Chun Quoit, perhaps the best preserved of the mysterious structures that, with circles, menhirs, ruined settlements, ancient hedges and field systems, and the enigmatic Men an Tol, emphasise that Penwith is a landscape shaped by trade, food production, defence, communities seeking shelter, warmth and places to congregate.
Morvah Church, which has uplifted spirits and guided seamen since early medieval times, stands stumpily above the fields of the farms which built and sustained it. Ding Dong Mine pokes its cathedral-like industrial finger to heaven. These structures have endured centuries.
As I looked down from Chun Castle across the flat lands towards the ocean I saw a handful of wind turbines turning and the words of a farmer friend came to mind. Amidst the uncertainties of disease, weather, market manipulation and debt, all of which not only affect solvency but also self-confidence and motivation (the two key aspects which put the culture into agriculture and which discourage farmers from working to hand over long-term enterprises to their children) the one secure and constant source of income at present is the wind turbine!
This led me to reflect that, while it is important to prevent excesses of intrusion (like, for instance, giant wind farms destroying the setting of Rough Tor), it may well be the case that our landscapes and heritage are being protected and sustained by the very machines which many seem hell-bent on trying to eradicate – especially those single machines which support smallholdings (the lifeblood of Cornish farming).
Farmers manage the landscapes we revere, and wind turbines may be keeping many farmers in business at the moment.
We should be careful to ensure that the agriculture which underpins our way of life and economy is not bullied into faceless corporate conglomeration by a misplaced desire to freeze our landscape in a romantic aspic.