Cornwall Living 2017

Into the wild

Famous for its iconic signpost, visitor centre and family attractions, Land’s End is also an ideal location for wildlife watching.

Land’s End sits in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, 200 feet above the Atlantic Ocean upon spectacular granite cliffs, which have been carved out by the waves. Just over a mile out to sea are the rocky islets on which the famous Longships Lighthouse stands and on a clear day with low tides, it’s possible to see the Isles of Scilly in the distance and grey seals basking below the famous lighthouse. Below Greeb Farm, a 19th century farmstead at Land’s End, stands the dramatically arched rock formation of Enys Dodman; in fact, a short walk in either direction along the coastal paths will open up fantastic ocean views that have inspired visitors, wildlife enthusiasts and walkers for centuries.

The site owners, past and present, have understood the unique capital associated with possessing such a beautiful location. Peter De Savary consulted top naturalist David Bellamy for his advice on how to conserve Land’s End and best protect its glorious fauna and flora. The result was the ‘Land’s End Conservation Report 1988’. Bellamy meticulously catalogued some 220 species of flowering plant, 81 species of lichen, 70 species of birds, 20 species of mammals, and much more besides! The splendid coastal paths at Land’s End bring many an amateur explorer or walker to the westernmost point of Cornwall but it’s the stunning diversity of wildlife that keeps budding naturalists and keen photographers coming back.

Coastal plants to look out for

The wild-plant conservation charity, Plantlife, hails the magnificent cliffs at Land’s End as a ‘Very Important Plant Area’. The geological formation of the cliffs along with the maintenance of Land’s End has created an ideal habitat for rare lichens and coastal plants. Heather and bell heather, western gorse and cross-leaved heath are abundant on the Land’s End heathland. Rare species such as the perennial centaury and early meadow grass together with the hairy bird’s-foot-trefoil and yellow bartsia have been recorded in the area. Visitors in the spring and summer are treated to the spectacular sight of cliffs bursting with colour as gorse, heather, thrift and sea campion flower.

Birds and sealife to spot

Some fantastic coastal creatures can be seen at Land’s End including the fulmar, kittiwake, porpoise, minke whale, and grey seal among many others. Though, perhaps the most iconic animals to be seen in Cornwall: the Cornish chough, the bottlenose dolphin and the basking shark, are all regularly sighted at Land’s End. A great place to find out more is the RSPB Discovery Centre just below the Land’s End signpost. Using binoculars, powerful telescopes and the finely tuned eyes of the RSPB experts, Land’s End visitors have spotted dolphins, seals, black-backed gull, peregrine falcons, choughs and much more.
The lovely folk at Cornwall Wildlife Trust gave us the following advice on what to look out for, and where best to look, to see some of the wonderful sealife around our coast.

Bottlenose dolphin

Up to 4m long, the bottlenose dolphin is one of the largest dolphins seen around the Cornish coast.  We have a resident pod of between 8 and 12 animals that are regularly seen close inshore around the coast. Good spots to see them include the Camel estuary, St Ives Bay, Sennen and Land’s End, Mounts Bay and Falmouth Bay.

Harbour porpoise

The harbour porpoise is smaller than most dolphins at about 1.5m long. These shy mammals are often hard to see as they spend little time at the surface, make little splash, and are rarely acrobatic. They can often be seen in the tidal streams and strong currents around headlands such as north of the Brisons at Cape Cornwall and around Land’s End.

Grey seals

Grey seals are the most visitor friendly of our marine mammals and are as curious in watching us as we are of them. They are often seen bobbing like corks in the water, watching what’s going on, or hauled out on rocks sun-bathing. They can best be seen at island haul out sites at Looe Island Nature Reserve, Saddle Rock, Godrevy Island, the Carracks, Longships Reef, Land’s End, Gwennap Island, Mousehole Island and Black Rock in Falmouth Bay. It is important not to disturb these animals, as with any others, when watching them.

Basking sharks

The basking shark is the ultimate gentle giant – growing up to 12m long and weighing up to 7 tonnes, this is the second largest known shark in the world and a resident of our British waters. Although generally elusive in nature these magnificent creatures are often seen cruising the waters of our Cornish coasts, specifically in the spring and summer months, in search of their food source; zooplankton (tiny, microscopic animals floating in the water column). Although usually fairly torpid in behaviour, basking sharks have been known to get agitated and even to breach out in the open water. Good spots to look for basking sharks are headlands such as Gwennap Head, Land’s End, or off the Lizard.

This month’s features