Much of the Cornish mining landscape - over 80,000
hectares - is in upland rough ground, commonly treeless, exposed,
and very wet, with thin acid soil. This ancient landscape was once
heathland, then the site of prehistoric farmland and the upper
margins of the medieval farming zone. Until the late eighteen
century it was largely uncultivated and used for common grazing.
In west Cornwall the best arable land had probably
been enclosed by the seventeenth century. Mineral lords, such as
Francis Basset, allowed settlement for miners provided they
cleared upland areas of waste. These smallholdings were held under
the ‘three lives’ system. Over 50,000 hectares were taken into
cultivation during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the
impact on the landscape was considerable, especially between areas
of concentrated mining.