It’s strange to see a Simon Reeve documentary on a place I’ve actually visited. Usually he’s trekking through the jungle or exploring a coral reef or meeting remote tribes. This time, he’s in the county of Cornwall in the south-west of England, just as the big lockdown is being lifted in July. Cornwall relies heavily on tourism and has therefore been hit very hard during the spring and early summer. Episode 1 had a human focus while Episode 2 was more about nature and wildlife. It’s a well-thought out documentary with some stunning aerial photography but you may wish to skip the visit to a butcher.
Here are some highlights:
- The Taco Boys are a young business who sell tacos on the beach. They’re committed and enthusiastic but have little time to earn enough to keep them going through the winter. Later in the season they’re rushed off their feet. A final visit sees them moving out of the county, to open a restaurant in Exeter. Simon thinks that the lack of opportunities for young people is the real tragedy for Cornwall.
- Cornwall has a long history of mining and it still continues. Simon marvels at Littlejohns Pit, the biggest china clay mine in the world. The staff obviously love their work and enjoy blasting thousands of tonnes of rocks. However, many more people used to work in the mining industry.
- A really remarkable man, Don, points out all the industrial sites which used to pay the wages of people in Camborne, which is now a deprived area. 12 years ago, Don and his wife Jen set up Cornwall’s first independent food bank, which feeds up to 500 families a month. Simon then meets young parents who are working on allotments and building a shed. It’s helped them with their wellbeing but in terms of employment, there aren’t long-term jobs and there is the expectation that you have to leave the county to find a career.
- Exploratory drilling has started at the existing tunnels in South Crofty mine, now that tin is so important as solder in electrical items. If the mine were to reopen, it would create jobs and be more sustainable than mines overseas. They detonate explosives beneath Tesco in Camborne but don’t worry, it’s safe.
- Seal-spotting off the coast of Newquay with seal expert and rescuer Sue reveals that each of these animals has a unique fur pattern so that individuals can be identified. Tourists need to keep their distance from seals to allow them to rest and digest food. The biggest threat to seals is extreme weather events.
- Flooding is increasingly common in Cornwall in particular, probably due to climate change. Farmer Chris has decided that beavers are the natural answer to the problem of flooding on his land. Beavers have engineered a series of dams, even creating a new ecosystem. Simon is very excited to see the beavers.
- An estimated 640,000 tonnes of lost fishing gear enter our oceans every years. A group of volunteer divers removes an extremely harmful ‘ghost net’ from the sea off the Cornish coast. Otherwise it will take an estimated 600 years to degrade. They are able to free a few creatures trapped in the net. On to the National Lobster Hatchery, where Simon helps release adorable tiny baby lobsters into the sea, which have been nurtured to help the survival rate and contribute to sustainable fishing.
- Tim Smit at the Eden Project has a vision for educating people about land and growing things, particularly for a change in attitude towards local agriculture. Musing upon these big ideas and the return to localism that the pandemic has highlighted, Simon attends a beaver release on to farmland, which is a rare and well-attended event. Everyone is awed as she finds her way to the river and swims away.
If you have access to BBC iPlayer, this series is available for a year.