There is a huge variety of wildlife to see in Cornwall though all the months of the year. There is always the chance of catching something unexpected. Look for rare plants on the Lizard, and you may see choughs; search for seabirds near Land's End and you may spot the odd porpoise, and so much more in this rich cornerstone of England.
The most south-westerly upland area in Britain, Bodmin Moor is perhaps the wildest landscape in Cornwall, with windswept granite tors, boulder-strewn slopes and rocky streams. Rough Tor is the second highest point in Cornwall. Standing on its summit on a clear day, it is possible to see to both the Atlantic to the north and the English Channel to the south. On the southern edge of the moor, Golitha Falls is a picturesque woodland occupying a steep-sided valley, with the River Fowey flowing through a series of spectacular cascades. The reserve is a relic of the ancient oak woodland that covered much of the surrounding area and is a good site for lower plants such as the rare Tunbridge filmy-fern. The river valleys are also good for dippers, common redstarts and wood warblers.
Porthgwarra is a quiet cove to the south-east of Land's End, great for rock-pooling and snorkelling. A walk along the rugged cliffs to Gwennap Head will take you to one of the best sea-watching spots in Britain. When the conditions are right (usually south-easterly winds), large numbers of seabirds, such as gannets, guillemots, razorbills and Manx shearwaters, can be seen. Take your binoculars - or even better a telescope - because this will increase your chance of seeing some wonderful marine life. I have seen large numbers of basking sharks and a minke whale from here, and on a number of occasions, even orcas have been spotted.
Kynance Cove, The Lizard
Kynance Cove, near Lizard Point, is a real treat for nature enthusiasts. The Lizard supports a large number of plant species found nowhere else in Britain or, in some cases, the world, due to its southerly position, mild climate and geology. Close to the carpark, a number of specialities can be found, including three-lobed crowfoot (in the pools, some of which contain goldfish), land quillwort, Cornish heath, prostrate asparagus and pygmy rush. In May 2002, another Cornish rarity stole the headlines: choughs bred in Cornwall for the first time in 50 years. Today, wild choughs on the Lizard can regularly be seen between Lizard Point and Mullion (including Kynance Cove).
Gwithian to Mexico Towans
This is a large sand-dune system extending north-east from Hayle, with views over St Ives Bay. The 'towans', Cornish for sand dunes, are easily accessed at Gwithian Towans and Upton Towans, also known as Dynamite Towans, because it is the former site of the National Explosives Works. Some of the works are still evident today, and bunkers provide sheltered spots for basking adders. Other towans wildlife that comes alive in May and June includes swathes of pyramidal orchids, rare early gentians, silver-studded blue butterflies, six-spot burnet moths, beautifully coloured wax cap fungi and skylarks singing over their territories. On hot evenings, after sunset, the area is lit up by female glow-worms trying to attract a male.
Fal and Helford Rivers
The Fal and Helford Rivers are rias - flooded river valleys - and are among the best sites in Europe for marine wildlife. They are perhaps best enjoyed for wildlife from a boat. A trip up the Fal from Falmouth to Truro allows closer inspection of the wooded muddy creeks, which are home to little egrets, herons, shelducks, curlews and redshanks. Visit the aptly named Heron Pub in Malpas, where on June evenings I've seen 50 herons and little egrets return to roost on the opposite bank. A boat trip from Falmouth to the Helford passes Black Rock, a popular haul out for grey seals, and then goes out into open sea to the Helford River, where I've been lucky enough to watch more than 20 basking sharks feeding near the mouth of the Fal.
Goss Moor National Nature Reserve (NNR) is situated in a broad, relatively flat, valley basin, which forms the headwaters of the River Fal. The reserve has no directly comparable site within Britain and consists of an unusual series of wetland habitats - including fen meadow, bog, wet heath and open water - which are a direct result of the extensive mining operations that occurred prior to 1945. These habitats support a rich variety of wildlife, including heath, spotted and early marsh orchids, insectivorous round-leaved sundews, royal ferns, bog bush crickets, marsh fritillary butterflies and 16 breeding species of dragonflies and damselflies, including a large population of small red damselflies.
The north coast of Cornwall is a dramatic coastline with giant rugged cliffs constantly battered by heavy seas. On quieter days in early summer, the great headlands of Pentire and The Rumps offer views to Stepper Point and Trevose Head in the south and south-west, and Hartland Point to the north-east. Off the coast, lie the small islands of Newland and the Mouls. Formed, like Pentire, of solidified lava, these are home to grey seals and a few puffins. The cliff-tops have a carpet of thrift and sea campion, and in the evenings, the sunsets on the north coast can be spectacular.
Overlooking St Michael's Mount, this RSPB reserve has Cornwall's largest reedbed, with areas of willow carr and open water. It is important for migrating birds: bitterns over-winter here, and work is in hand to encourage them to breed. Cetti's, reed and sedge warblers all breed here, and there is the uncommon site of ground-nesting herons. There are extensive records for plants and insects, with highlights including pillwort, yellow centaury, wavy St John's wort and hornet robber flies. The pools support an impressive 14 species of dragonfly, including emperors, common hawkers, black-tailed skimmers and even rare red-veined darters.
The largest culm grassland site in Cornwall, Greena Moor is jointly owned and managed by Plantlife and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. Culm grassland develops on poorly-drained soils, which can stay wet even in the driest weather because of the rock structure below - a mixture of shales, slates and sandstones laid down about 300 million years ago. Culm grassland is characterised by plants that have adapted to the dampness. Culm specialities include whorled caraway and wavy St John's wort. June is the best time to visit, because there are interesting plants to see and the sward is alive with insects. Look out for marbled white and marsh fritillary butterflies.
Unimproved herb-rich pasture is rare in Cornwall. This site survived the plough during the Second World War because an American military camp was on it - and thank goodness it did, because this is one of the best places to see orchids in Cornwall. Seven species have been recorded, including greater and lesser-butterfly, southern-marsh, common-spotted, early purple and autumn lady's-tresses. In June there are large patches of orchids, which are a wonderful sight mixed with the other flora, and it is worth spending some time examining these beautiful plants individually.
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