Bodmin Moor Observations

The following blog entry is the full text I provided to 'My Cornwall' magazine. Almost the entire piece was publsihed in its August/September 2016 issue, as a question and answer style interview.  For more information on the plight of the Bodmin Ponies, see the charity People 4 Ponies, who published an extensive blog about the crisis.

Summer on Bodmin Moor is a great time to explore and walk in the evenings. The air on the moor is so pure, you may notice unusual beard lichens growing on the trees. It stays light until late and the moorland is incredibly beautiful and peaceful. Take a drink and a snack and an OS 1:25 000 map. Part of the joy is in the planning, studying the map and deciding a route. If you are exploring alone then make sure someone knows your plan and when you are due back. You are unlikely to meet The Beast of Bodmin, but a sprained ankle or other mishap a very faint possibility.

The landscape of the moor feels incredibly old. We know that prehistoric people first cleared the land of its’ trees. Bodmin is much smaller than Dartmoor but it makes up in atmospheric quality. There are a few places left in Cornwall where you can escape the crowds even in the summer. There are amazing natural rock formations, Rough Tor and the Cheesewring come immediately to mind. Those prehistoric people left incredible stone circles, houses and other amazing monuments. Some are well visited, but still retain their character. The Hurlers circle and nearby Pipers, unlike Stonehenge, remain free and accessible to all. They are respected and admired by people from all over the world.

The lovely Bodmin Moor church St Neot is one of only two churches in the whole country to retain its’ pre-Reformation stained glass. I’m sure I heard a story that the villagers got the soldiers too drunk to destroy their prized holy decorative glass. The window featuring the Noah’s Ark story depicts Noah rolling drunk. 

At The Hurlers and nearby Cheesewring rock formation, the St Michael ley-line, sometimes known as the Michael and Mary line, is said to flow. It runs right through the natural granite rock formation. A pure gold-cup, known as the Rillaton cup was found nearby in the 19th Century. The gold cup, recovered from a burial mound, is now in the British Museum (room 50/55), and is said to date from the Greek Mycenaean Age culture. It’s incredible that an item from a culture associated with The Trojan Wars was discovered on Bodmin Moor. 

The Blisland Inn pub is never out of The Good Beer Guide. A national and regional winner, it always has a great range of ales to try. The church on the other side of the rare village green at Blisland was Sir John Betjeman’s favourite. St Protus and St Hyacinth is beautiful with a stunning decorated rood screen and wonky columns supporting a beautiful distorted barrel roof.

You may be surprised to know that Bodmin Moor is not a National Park. The land is privately owned and protected under designations such as AONB and SSSI. The public enjoy access to the land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

I love the archaeology and by visiting Bodmin Moor I actually feel closer to Bronze Age people and other prehistoric people, as if it was not so long ago! The idea of magic in their world and the fun of dowsing the sites for ‘energy’ is entertaining. But I’m beginning to think that they were very like us. We just don’t know everything about them and what their motives were for building the things they did.

I also love seeing the domestic animals who are left to graze the moor, cattle, sheep and ponies. I feel strongly that they need better protection and monitoring. Many people visiting don’t really look carefully enough at the condition of the animals.

I have a soft spot for the atmospheric churches in and around Bodmin Moor. Beautiful art and decoration tended to gravitate towards these buildings and was often preserved. To me there is also a lovely innocence to the fact that they are unlocked and that kind people care for these holy places.

Wildlife on the moor has legal protection. It is important that dog walkers do not allow their dogs to disturb ground-nesting birds during the season March to July. Therefore, dogs must be kept on leads at this time.

Dog attacks on sheep have been a significant problem too. Responsible dog owners should avoid sheep and keep their dogs on leads when passing them.

Likewise, drivers have a duty to drive sensibly and with consideration to the animals, horse-riders and walkers who may be on the roads.

In certain areas of Bodmin Moor the resident ponies have experienced years of poor management. The owners of Bodmin Moor ponies have never actually been exempt from rules on microchipping and passports for their animals. But dead or sick or starving equines can not be traced back to owners, and the explanation given is that the animals are ‘dumped’. The land is overgrazed especially on the South side of the moor. Animals are left out during the winter when there is nothing to eat. Stallions are always with the mares, so that there are foals born all year around and the mares have no respite. Inbreeding can also cause problems. We should not forget that sheep and cattle also suffer welfare issues.

At present Natural England makes various Common Agricultural Policy payments based on grazing rights, but there are no sanctions taken against those who breach these rights. Linking any future subsidy payments to individual farmers and verified performance measures would be a great start to improving animal welfare.    

The new Bodmin Moor Commons Council (BMCC) has the power to make rules concerning the management of the moor, including the animals grazing on it. This has the potential to improve animal welfare.

Many visitors like the idea of the moor, even if they do not visit, or only touch upon the edges of the landscape. As the dictionary definition of moorland is wasteland, it’s not everyone’s idea of an asset. In my opinion tourism is not encouraged or promoted on Bodmin Moor in the same way as Dartmoor, which is a national park unlike Bodmin Moor. Things could change and people might be made to feel more welcome in future. The mining heritage of Bodmin Moor forms part of the UNESCO designated World Heritage Site. The official website for Cornwall’s mining heritage offers free audio downloads for mobile phones, explaining the heritage landscape. And of course the latest and very successful Poldark series has also promoted Bodmin Moor.   

A year or two ago people visiting Stowes pound, a Neolithic listed monument decided to re-arrange the stones. Like a crazy fashion moment, more and more people copied the idea of piling stones up into small towers. Volunteers and officials were left to clear up the mess and try to restore the ancient monument. Stowes Pound may be 6 000 years old and it didn’t need a makeover!

Some drivers appear to totally disregard the domestic animals grazing at the roadside.  This leads to numerous incidents where animals are killed. The sheep and ponies at Davidstow Airfield seem particularly vulnerable. Drivers should adjust their speed and expect animals to step out across the road at any time.  

Another problem is people driving on the moor itself. The land is protected under several designations including SSSI and AONB. Driving any vehicle on it damages the landscape and its plant and animal life, all of which are surprisingly vulnerable. The South side of Bodmin Moor does not have SSSI status and this needs to be rectified.

This year within a discreet area of Bodmin Moor known as East Moor more than 20 ponies have died. This happened over several months and the cause of their deaths is still under consideration. The deaths may be linked to high worm burdens and other parasites, starvation, or possible poisoning. This is not the first time there have been serious problems in this area and it is not the only part of Bodmin Moor with animal welfare issues. But in some areas of the moor healthy and obviously well cared for animals may be seen grazing and enjoying their environment.

Some farmers who exercise grazing rights on Bodmin Moor are very concerned about the damage to their reputation caused by poor livestock management in other areas of the moor. After many years of trying The Bodmin Moor Commons Council (BMCC) was finally formally established on 4th March 2016. Some areas of Bodmin Moor did not elect representatives onto the council. However, this is soon due to be rectified. As yet the BMCC have no website. Their second meeting has been scheduled for 1930 hrs on 4th August 2016 at Bolventor Social Hall, near Jamaica Inn.

The BMCC is looking for funding to help it move forward. If anyone can make financial contributions or suggest fundraising ideas, this would be welcome. Readers may want to link their donations to specific concerns, and request ongoing updates from the council in relation to any funds donated. The equine charity Redwings is also seeking donations to fund a pilot scheme microchipping the ponies on East Moor, one of the worst affected areas for animal neglect.

Readers can contact the council with their concerns and suggestions. They may also attend its’ meetings, which are open to the public.

Readers can report welfare concerns to the RSPCA and also to Julie Downton who is a BMCC volunteer. The RSPCA will call back with an outcome if requested in the initial call. Photographs are a very useful record, and if readers are concerned about a particular animal or an issue in a specific area, they should organise their photographic evidence in date order and keep notes of reports made. This will be useful evidence for future enquiries. The equine charity People 4 Ponies has been monitoring the East Moor situation and campaigning on behalf on the ponies via an online blog. Their blog contains ideas for who to contact to ask for improvement concerning Bodmin Moor animal welfare. It also details the 2016 story of East Moor.

A number of charities have taken in ponies rescued from the moor this year. More than 100 individual ponies have been removed and the vast majority have survived. Readers can donate the following charities and organisations, all of which have been doing their best to help the ponies.

Redwings Horse Sanctuary

Bransby Horses

Bolenowe Animal Sanctuary (Cornwall)

Bodmin Moorland Pony Rehabilitation (Cornwall)

Shires Holt (Cornwall)

Adamsfield Rescue (Cornwall)

People 4 Ponies (Devon)


Offers of help have also been made from The Mare and Foal Sanctuary and Hillside Animal Sanctuary. Private members of the public have also offered help.

When I take people on tours of the moor I am restricted in where I can walk with people because the moor is in private ownership. But as individuals we all have the ‘right to roam’ under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

An ideal day for me would be a warm early autumn day, a walk across the open moor with my dogs, perhaps taking in the three stone circles at Stannon, Louden and Fernacre, all of which sit in the shadow of Rough Tor a prehistoric ‘Holy Mountain’.   Then I’d like to go to The Rising Sun for lunch (just outside Altarnun). Perhaps I’d walk all the way there. But I’d definitely like a ride home.

Bodmin Moor is a different world. It’s so far removed from the beach and surf life of our traditional coastal getaway resorts. Yet it is so Cornish, unique and very special. On a nice day if you fancy a walk you really can get away from it all and experience a genuine sense of place. But like much of Cornwall you have to work for her treasure. Be organised, take a map and refreshments. Plan your route and discover a prehistoric stone circle where there is no one else around. Enjoy the feeling of achievement, the pure clean air and the luxury of space.

What to do on a wet weather day in the summer? Visit the moor. You might get a bit wet walking, but there are indoor options too. The Davidstow Airfield and Cornwall at War Museum is an absolute gem. There’s enough to see to last all day. Military enthusiasts will of course be entertained and I defy anyone not to be fascinated by the personal stories, the amazing detailed collections, the 1940s mannequin’s party and the Animals at War exhibit.