The mid-Cornwall landscape has been massively reshaped by the China Clay mining industry over more than 200 years, creating the landscape of the Cornish Alps. The main China Clay industry in Cornwall has restructured and there are a number of opportunities for land use post-mining to deliver sustainable conservation, access and landscape benefits.
The China Clay Woodland Project is one such project, following on from the success of the THH project (1998 – 2004) which re-created and restored lowland heathland in mid Cornwall, the majority on the mine waste tips.
The China Clay Woodland Project is a partnership led by Natural England, working with Imerys, the Forestry Commission, Cornwall County Council and Restormel District Council. The project has spent £2.5m on new native broadleaf woodland plantings on non-agricultural land (380 ha), restoring existing woodland (440 ha), converting non-native shelterbelts (116 ha) and creating new and improved footpaths and bridleways (11 km). The Objective One grant of 80% of the expenditure came from EAGGF and Defra, 19% from Imerys, and 1% from the public organisations. Imerys contributions were largely in the form of site works (invasive control, fencing, thinning and conversion operations) delivered by their own staff, and the public organisations primarily provided specialist advice, and managed and administered the project.
Species such as conifers and rhododendron have been removed and replaced with tree species native to Cornwall – mainly oak, ash and birch with smaller amounts of mountain ash, holly, hazel and hawthorn. The sand and mica sites have low nutrient levels therefore plug-grown trees were planted, which prevented the roots from drying out and helped the plants establish. Plugs also allowed the planting season to be extended. Trees were planted at a ratio of 2,250 per hectare. Treeshelters supported by bamboo canes and stakes were used to protect the young trees from wind and rain, voles and rabbits! Sites were prepared for planting by Imerys; the subsequent tree planting, gapping up, weed control, beating up and general maintenance were carried out by contractors. Significant fencing and footpath construction works were also undertaken by contractors, not only to keep neighbouring cattle out of the new woods but to encourage people to come in!
During the project’s planting seasons up to 100 tree planters were working at one time. In addition, around 1,500 primary school pupils from the local area gained first hand experience of tree planting and sustainable land management. Samantha Pickard of the Woodland Trust, who organised two events involving schools said: “The trees planted through this project will be recognisable as woodland within five years and established within 10 years. This project is all about creating a legacy for future generations and it’s wonderful to think that the primary school children who have helped us plant trees will be able to see the mature woodlands established by the time they reach adulthood, and enjoy them with future generations of their families.” These events were covered by the local press and TV, culminating in a ceremony for the planting of the millionth tree by the Lady Mary Holborow, the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall with representatives of Natural England, Imerys, partners and funders in attendance.
Creating new access is especially valuable as much of the area is covered by the Mines and Quarries Act and is closed to the public. The area has been opened up to walkers, horse riders and cyclists and new routes will also link to the Clay trails and the Goss Moor NNR multi-use trail (the site of the Mid Cornwall Moors Life Project), extending the access area even wider. The new woodland will become a rich eco-system and will allow the public to see the woodlands grow and develop, providing a valuable asset for local residents and visitors to the region. The project’s contribution to BAP targets will also be immense.
Working with a multi-national business partner like Imerys brought a particular set of challenges. The commercial realities of changing commodity prices and land values have meant that the project planting areas changed considerably from the original plan. The success of the project stands as a testament to the commitment of Imerys to leave an appropriate post-mining legacy, to the benefits of a public-private partnership, to the project management skills of Natural England staff and to the flexibility and support of the funding body and partners . Carleen Kelemen, Director of the Objective One Partnership said “This scheme demonstrates how partnerships between the public and private sector can greatly enhance part of Cornwall’s beautiful environment. It is also an example of how the rehabilitation of this former industrial landscape is a vital building block in the economic and community regeneration of the area. With a better environment comes greater social and economic confidence and with it increased business activity and employment.”
The future management of the woodland is assured through funding from Imerys and the establishment of a detailed exit strategy by the project and Imerys staff in consultation with the Forestry Commission. Contractors will continue the work of maintaining the woodland, its access tracks and its developing under storey. The steep and stark landforms left by the clay mining industry will become an attractive and inviting landscape for plant life, animal life and the public’s enjoyment.