Warning over Dartmoor's hidden mine shafts

Once found, mine shafts believed to be at risk of collapse are fenced off and warning signs erected

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Mine shafts up to 100ft (30m) deep have been weakened by severe weather and could collapse, Dartmoor National Park Authority has warned.

Winter storms are thought to have damaged the wood and rubble used to cover the shafts, some of which are unfenced and unmarked.

The workings, which are often covered by grass, are "difficult to detect", the authority said.

Previously, sheep and ponies have had to be rescued from shafts on the moor.

Head ranger Rob Steemson said: "We are aware of a few collapses this year and the sites are being regularly checked and monitored by the landowners."

Once found, the areas are fenced off and warning signs erected.

Collapsed fenced off mine shaft Some mine shafts are up to 100ft (30m) deep
Collapsing mine shaft A hole forms above a collapsed mine on Dartmoor
Map of mining hotspots There are thought to be hundreds of covered tin mine shafts across the moor

Mr Steemson said: "Unless you really know what to look for they are difficult to detect to the untrained eye.

"Landowners and ourselves are concerned that after the bad weather a few of these are falling in."

He said there were hundreds of covered tin mine shafts across the moor.

'Sudden collapse'

Mr Steemson added: "There's no need to panic, but walkers should use maps to be aware of the mined areas."

Barry Gamble, mine historian, said: "Over time they [the shafts] became deeper as the pumping technology improved and some have been insubstantially tapped.

Mine workings on Dartmoor

  • Three styles of mining were used on the moor - open works, open cast and shaft mines
  • Since 1872 the law has demanded that derelict shafts had to be capped with timber and rubble
  • Mines, which were closed, were not filled with rubble because the owners ran out of money

Source: Barry Gamble, mine historian

"The rain causes substantial weight on the wood and rubble and dislodges them.

"Movements can then lead to a sudden collapse."

The Duchy of Cornwall, which is a significant land owner on Dartmoor, said key mine shaft areas were fenced off and periodically inspected.

A spokesman said: "However, there is of course a risk of further collapses, but as and when they are reported we act immediately.

"We have an expert who advices us on the likelihood of collapses."

Since 2004, Mr Steemson said he was aware of up to 15 that had fallen in and had been fenced off.

In February, the Met Office announced the UK had had its wettest winter since national records began in 1910.

Possible mine shaft Mine shafts hidden beneath the surface can be "difficult to detect", said Rob Steemson

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