mining landscape

Mining Landscape

Devon and Cornwall have been actively mined since at least pre-Roman times, stripped of tin, copper, lead, arsenic, clay and water.  The mining of Cornwall was historically that of mineral extraction; in Devon it's been a mix of mineral extraction and agriculture (mining the rich soils to grow produce and livestock).  This mix of mining activities created the distinctive landscapes of these two counties present today.  In places these are landscapes which were laid waste; yet nature has reconquered them with such vigour that their beauty draws millions of tourists every year. In this way these landscapes continue to be mined  –– tourists take away the beauty of this place in digital images, snapshots, postcards and videos.

Devon and Cornwall are also places of shifting cultural identity.  As mineral extraction disappears so do jobs (at present there are no working tin mines in either county, china clay mining continues in places).  Agriculture is disappearing in places as well, especially the upland hill areas of Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor, again with a loss of jobs.  At the same time the demands of tourism have created inflated markets in house and land prices.  As family members leave home they can no longer afford to stay in the communities where they grew up.  House price spirals cause a cultural change in the towns, villages and countryside as properties become holiday lets, second and commuter homes –– village life and culture changes, shops go out of business, post offices depart, 'ghost' towns appear.  This form of mining landscape may be ultimately more destructive than mineral extraction.

This newer form of mining creates a new kind of wealth, but it also leaves its own traces and scars –– distorted livelihoods, communities and culture.  The land heals when the activity stops; but will the income from the mining of tourist/incomer pockets enable villages to sustain, or regenerate, their unique cultures?

This project celebrates as well as questions.  Mining and tourism have left behind a rich heritage in these two counties –– a heritage that has been recognised through the award of World Heritage Site status to ten locations across Cornwall and West Devon.  The creative team will develop ways to recognise this rich heritage, and a number of public events will encourage others to become involved in being creative and celebrating these places.


The project

The project focussed on the three geographical areas around the partner organisations, all of which are of great interest for their past mining activity and the legacies this has left, together with the tourism of today.

Laura Smith, Tanya and Paul Morel, and Martin Prothero produced a wide-ranging series of work arising from this landscape.   The work explores mining literally and metaphorically, historically and contemporaneously, illuminating ways of life now, and in the past.  Above all, these outputs from the project add meaning and understanding.  This is yet another form of mining landscape. 

Laura Smith was based in Pool in West Cornwall, working with the Heartlands project and surrounding communities. Laura worked with residents in the area and with The Heartlands Project. Over five months Laura collected stories and memories, many of them from ex-miners, and also workied with young people at Pool Business and Enterprise College. She launched her project at an exhibition at the historic Basset Institute in Pool (nr Redruth) in March 2009, and her two projects, Mine is Yours, and Mine is Yours II, can be visited online

Tanya and Paul Morel of Oddbodies Theatre worked in the Tamar Valley, with the AONB and their research team, in particular working with the oral histories they have been collecting and looking at ways to use this material in imaginative and innovative ways. They worked with many local people in the area, and on the Tamar Valley branch line to create their three-channel video piece, a preview of which can be seen here. Martin Prothero also worked in the Tamar Valley AONB, and his work is now available at the Tamar Valley AONB Visitor Centre, and also here online.


You can download the artists' brief
Download the project map here.


The creative team

Laura Smith is a fine artist currently based in Cornwall where she is undertaking an MA at University College Falmouth. She graduated from the Glasgow School of Art with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art, and has already shown work across the UK and in Norway, and had work featured on BBC Radio 3. Three examples of her video installation work:

laura smith laura smith laura smith

Martin Prothero is a naturalist, and a visual and sound artist who has worked on a number of Aune Head Arts project in recent years, including walk your ears! and Drake's Trail. His work, alongside scientists and ecologists as well as naturalists has been shown widely, and about himself he says: "My work process explores our human relationship to the natural world through developing direct relationships with place and wild creatures. I have been making my artwork for 9 years and have supported my freelance career from artwork sales, residencies, projects and exhibitions, speaking at conferences and lectures, since 2001." Below are three image from Martin's "Carbon Light Life".

common frog ground beetle hedgehog


Paul Morel worked extensively as a musician in the UK and USA before training as an actor. His theatre work has taken him all over the UK, USA, Europe and Canada. He has worked on a number of award winning independent films that have appeared in festivals around the world, including his own animated film 'Black Hen'. Morel is also a regular teacher and director at a number of performing arts colleges around the UK.

Tanya Scott-Wilson (Morel) trained as an actor and has performed with numerous companies with whom she has toured all over the UK, USA, Canada and Europe. She has worked on a number of independent film and TV productions both in front of and behind the camera. In 2006, with a bursary from the Phoenix media Centre in Exeter, she completed a short animated film, 'The Fat Lady Dances On The Head of A Pin' which has played at various festivals around the UK. She also recently graduated from University College Falmouth, with a 1st class BA(Hons) in Fin
e Art.

oddbodies 1 oddbodies oddbodies



Engaging with history and community
The project looks at two strands that represent "mined landscape":  historic mining activities and tourism, with an emphasis as much on the past as on the present.

Across the project areas in West Devon and Cornwall the artists and oral historian worked with their partner organisations and the local communities, researching, collecting stories and memories and holding public events such as walks around some of the sites.  In addition community members brought and shared materials and engaged in the project creatively, including free workshop sessions teaching people how to gather and record their own material.




Project Locations (project map)

The Kerrier District, an important and complex mining district containing what were some of the richest and deepest mines in the county. The area also houses the site of South Crofty, the last working tin mine in Cornwall (and Europe) which closed in March 1998 (although efforts are currently underway to re-open the mine, not necessarily without controversy). Kerrier District Council were awarded over £22m to develop an area around Pool and South Crofty highlighting Cornish innovation and migration, with Robinsons Shaft (part of South Crofty mine) at the centre of the development.

The area is also home to Camborne School of Mines (part of Exeter University), founded in 1888, which has an international reputation for research and teaching related to understanding and management of Earth's natural processes and resources.

The Restormel District, another important mining area, still houses working china clay pits. The companies operating these mines are however reducing workforces, leaving questions about job losses and how the communities will survive and adapt.



West Devon (Tamar Valley) and Dartmoor were centres of mineral mining thought to have originated as early as pre-roman times, and which continued into the 20th century. The populations of villages and towns such as Gunnislake, Drakewalls, Luckett and Tavistock increased dramatically during the nineteenth century as a result of the burgeoning mining industry, with Tavistock in particular becoming a wealthy market town dominating the area. Copper mining and arsenic production in particular dominated the fortunes of the Tamar Valley through into the twentieth century; Devon Great Consols was at one time the largest copper producer in Europe and, later in its productive life, able to supply half the world’s demand for arsenic.

On the Bere Alston peninsula, east of the river silver-lead lodes had also been worked from at least the late thirteenth century when miners were recruited by the Crown to work the Bere Ferrers silver mines.

The Tamar Valley has also long been recognised for its incredible landscape beauty which led to its designation as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1995. Overlapping with much of the Tamar Valley area of the World Heritage Site, the dual designations ensure the valley the preservation of its unique cultural identity, mining landscapes and natural beauty.



Project Partners
The Heartlands Project
Tamar Valley AONB








last updated: 01-Apr-2011 8:40