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27 February 2004
Controlled fire scorches Cornish stone circle

The 4,500-year-old Bronze Age stone circle at Tregeseal, located in a designated "Environmentally Sensitive Area" on the Penwith moors, near St Just (Cornwall, England) has been scorched black by flames following a "controlled" gorse fire. The local farmer who had been asked to clear the gorse around the stones has a management agreement with the county council's Historic Environment Service to keep the circle and pathways clear of gorse. He started the controlled fire to clear gorse that was encroaching on to the circle on the advice of Anne Preston-Jones, of the council's environment service.
     But angry locals and members of West Cornwall's pagan moot, who have been caring for the circle over the past decades, say that five of the ancient standing stones have been scorched black as a result of the fire and four others have been partially blackened. The circle used to nestle amongst the heather and gorse, but following the fire, the gorse and heather have been stripped from around the stones, leaving them exposed in a blackened landscape. Slow growing lichens have also been stripped by the fire from the ancient monument.
     Andy Norfolk, chairman of the Cornish Sacred Sites Protection Network, said that he feared the flames may have got into the fissures of the stones and may have caused irreparable damage. "But we won't be able to tell how much damage has been done until the soot is washed off the stones," he said. "We will probably get together a group of volunteers to clean the stones under the supervision of an archeologist in the coming weeks."
     Cheryl Straffon, of the West Cornwall pagan moot, said: "The burning of gorse so close to this ancient site was totally irresponsible. The circle is now a terrible mess."
     Anne Preston-Jones said this week that she gave Mr Williams permission to burn the gorse around the monument. She said she visited the site after the fire and in her professional opinion she does not feel the stones have been too badly damaged. "Twenty years ago the circle was completely blackened by a heavy burning of the gorse, but the area quickly recovered. I don't think last week's burning has damaged the circle, which isn't perfect anyway, as part of it was reassembled some years ago from the bottom of tin pits." she said, adding: "The lichens, gorse and heather will grow back again. In all honesty I don't think the damage is as bad as it might at first look."

Source: The Cornishman (26 February 2004)

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