Monday, 26 October 2009

China clay mining and the Cornwallian landscape

Pentawan, Cornwall, UK

Today we travelled to see the poverty and environmental destruction associated with china clay mining, a sharp contrast to the richness of the Heligan estate. Our first stop was the China Clay Country Park that features an abandoned clay pit surrounded by spoil heaps that together created an eerie landscape that would not be out of place in a Margaret Atwood dystopian novel. One interesting historical detail I gleaned from the museum’s exhibits concerns the workers who dried and loaded the extracted china clay. Able to earn enough money by early afternoon, they would spend the rest of their day cultivating gardens and tending animals, a pattern of work that allowed them to take advantage of Cornwall’s advantageous climate to produce much of their own food. This mixture of subsistence and commercial activity has been a common element that sustained communities over time. Today there is little evidence of backyard gardens, although Ian Martin of the Eden Project is considering working with the clay country communities to bring back household green spaces.

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