Cornish Wildlife

Cornwall has a wonderful variety of natural habitats many with unique ecosystems. They include:

Woodlands
Cornish woods are carpeted with Bluebells in the Spring and in Autumn are great places to find fungi on deadwood and amongst the fallen leaves. Birds to look out for are the Nuthatch, Dipper, Jay and Woodpecker.

Cornish Amazon

The Cornish Amazon -  illustration by Simon Riordan
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‘The Cornish Amazon’ One of Simon’s favourite locations

Sessile Oaks can be commonly seen growing along the river edges and many wading birds – Curlew, Grey Heron, Little Egret. Watch the incoming tide bring with it Grey Mullet who feed on the muddy floor.

Bodmin Moor

Roughtor on Bodmin Moor -  illustration by Simon Riordan
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Roughtor on Bodmin Moor

This rugged moorland punctuated by spectacular granite tors is one of Cornwall’s most dramatic and unspoilt areas. Rough Tor and Brown Willy are Cornwall’s highest peaks reaching 547 metres. The area is grazed by sheep, cattle and ponies and is also a haven for wildlife and especially birds such as the Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Curlew.

Penwith

Illustrations  of Cornish wildlife created for Cornwall Uncovered
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Illustrations as they appeared before being placed on Cornwall Uncovered.

A mix of heathland and ancient stone walled fields make up this rugged landscape. Look out for Cornish Heath, specific to Cornwall, the granite walls and outcrops covered in unusual lichens, the rare Marsh Fritillary Butterfly, disturbed ground of badger sets and in summer, the sound of the skylark flying high in the sky.

The Lizard
The unusual acid rich soils here create ideal conditions for Cornish Heath. The shallow pools on the Downs are ideal habitats for the Palmate Newt and several dragonfly species.The reintroduced Red Squirrel may be spotted amongst the trees and here are several breeding pairs of Cornwall’s signature bird – The Chough.

Culm Grassland
This wet, boggy habitat is fast disappearing and Greena Moor Nature Reserve is therefore extremely important in protecting wildlife specific to this type of habitat such as the southern Marsh Orchid , Bog Pimpernel and the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly.

The Towans

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There are over fifty wildlife illustrations featured on the map.

Towans is Cornish for Sand dunes, which exist along a stretch of the north coast. In the Spring Sand Martins nest in the sandy cliffs, the dunes are protected by the deep roots of widespread Marram Grass and summer sees the towans filled with wildflowers such as Birds foot Trefoil and Pyramidal Orchid.

Here is a list of wildlife that can be found in Cornwall and around its seas. This is in no way a comprehensive list but just a taster of what can be discovered:


FLORA

Gorse
This evergreen shrub with honey
scented flowers is in flower almost all the year round, hence the phrase: ‘When gorse is out of blossom, kissings out of fashion’

Cornish Heath
A spreading evergreen heather native to Cornwall found unusually on the alkaline soils of the Lizard and considered to be the Cornish national flower. (Goonhilly Downs)

Cornish Violet
Since Victorian times, this scented flower was grown in small sheltered fields, harvested and sent by rail to London for sale.

Bluebells
very common in Cornish woodland areas where they emerge in early January before the trees blossom and block much of the sunlight.

Red Campion

Red Campion -  illustration by Simon Riordan
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Red Campion – illustration by Simon Riordan

The Cornish hedges in springtime are often filled with this pretty plant with flowers that are pink rather than red in colour.

Meadowsweet
once a feature of damp meadows but now more commonly seen along Cornish hedgerows. Once used as a soothing healing herb. Almond scented.

Rock Samphire
this plant that grows all over the cliffs and coastal rocks around Cornwall is a delicious vegetable cooked in a little olive oil and lemon juice.

Bird’s Foot Trefoil
Also known as ‘Granny’s toenails! Provides nectar for many species of butterfly.

Pyramidal Orchid (Hayle)
This small pink orchid grows widely across Hayle Towans creating a floral display every summer.

Red Valerian
a nectar rich plant popular with butterflies, bees and hoverflies that grows all over Cornwall and locally called Padstow Pride.

Common Puffball
can be found in woodland and grassland – often occurring in groups.

Foxglove
– Every summer the Cornish hedgerows come alive with wild flowers and the crowning glory of these is the tall foxglove.

TREES

The Elm was once a common tree in Cornwall - illustration by Simon Riordan
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The Elm was once a common tree in Cornwall

Yew –
The Yew is a very ancient tree with some trees thought to be thousands of years old. Commonly associated with churchyards where it was seen as a symbol of immortality and a protection against evil.

Fig Tree
At Manaccan Church a flourishing fig tree thought to be at least 250 years old grows out the south wall.

Cornish Elm (Ulmus daveyi)
Once the dominant hedgerow tree before the onslaught of Dutch Elm Disease . Elm can still be seen around Gulval, Newquay, the Roseland and St Kew. Able to cope with Cornish salty air.

The Darley Oak ancient tree SX27627329
On the edge of Bodmin Moor this ancient tree, thought to be 1000 years old is thought to have special healing properties, its acorns were used as good luck charms during pregnancy.

BIRDS
Buzzard – Our commonest bird of prey can often be seen gliding and soaring high above, on the look out for small mammals, birds and carrion.

Grey Heron
unmistakeable with its long legs and beak – found around Cornwall’s rivers such as River Fowey and River Fal .

Stone Chat

These birds make a loud call sounding like two stones tapped together.
Oyster Catcher

Oystercatcher - illustration by Simon Riordan
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Oystercatcher

Look out for this brightly coloured bird feeding on cockles along the coast.

Curlew (BAP Species Bodmin Moor)

Our largest wading bird with its easily recognisable call can be seen and heard along Cornish estuaries such as the River Fal.

Herring Gull
a large and noisy scavenger present all over Cornwall especially by the coast.

Nuthatch

A plump bird that lives in mature woods such as Tehidy and can be seen on the sides of tree trunks and underside of branches. Feeds on nuts, seeds and insects.

Jay
a shy woodland bird with a loud screaming call. Jays like to bury acorns as a store of food for winter.

Spotted Flycatcher
a late spring migrant which can be seen in woodland with open glades or anywhere good for catching flying insects such as churchyards.

Barn Owl
A much loved countryside bird best seen at dusk when it is likely to be hunting for mice, voles and shrews.

Cormorant

A supreme fisher and common around the Cornish coast where it can often be seen drying its wings on the rocks or diving for fish in the coastal waters.

Little Egret
A small white heron that hunts for fish along the river estuaries.

Shelduck

A big colourful duck that can be seen in Hayle Estuary and Hayle Towans where it raises its young in the rabbit holes.

House Sparrow (BAP Species Truro)

These noisy and gregarious birds have sadly declined by over 70% since 1977 but are still a common feature all over Cornwall.

Sparrowhawk
a small bird of prey adapted to hunting birds in confined spaces such as dense woodland and gardens.

Great Black-backed Gull

Cornwall Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve on St Georges Island near Looe has over 70 breeding pairs, the world’s largest gull.

Skylark (special to Cornwall RSPB

The skylark is most easily spotted whilst flying high and singing. Modern farming methods have caused a serious decline in numbers

Sand Martin
The Sand Martin excavates holes in sand banks to rear its young. Places in Cornwall where you can see thesenesting holes are at St Gothian Sands and Marazion Marsh.

Gannet (special to cornwall RSPB)

Though not breeding in Cornwall, Gannets can be seen around Cornwall’s headlands especially at Cape Cornwall.

The Cornish Chough can sometimes be seen on the Lizard and at West Penwith
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The Cornish Chough can sometimes be seen on the Lizard and at West Penwith

Chough (Special to Cornwall RSPB)
The red bill and legs identify the Chough from other member of the crow family. The Cornish Chough Project aims to increase the population by improving suitable coastal habitats and safeguarding the nesting attempts of this rare breed.Sightings of this rare bird have been seen in West Penwith and the Lizard

Kittiwake (special to Cornwall RSPB)

Up to a dozen colonies breed on the cliffs each year. Look out for these agile flyers at the headland in Newquay and at Land’s End.

Puffin
Just a few pairs breed on Long Island near Boscastle and on the Rumps near Padstow.

ANIMALS


Red Squirrel
Lizard, Trewithen.
The introduction of the grey squirrel from America in 1876 led to the demise of the red squirrel and the last was seen in Cornwall in 1984. The Cornwall Red Squirrel Project is reintroducing the Red Squirrel to West Penwith and the Lizard and removing Grey Squirrels, carriers of the deady disease, squirrelpox which kills the Red Squirrel. Trewithen Estate near Probus and Paradise Park are breeding the Red Squirrel in special enclosures for release into the wild.

Dormouse (BAP Species Truro)

Dormice are nocturnal, hibernate from October to April and can spend up to three quarters of their life asleep. Dormice have been found on the Lizard, Luxulyan Valley and Cabilla, A CWT reserve near Bodmin.

Hedgehog (BAP Species Truro)

Sadly many hedgehogs are injured or killed trying to cross our Cornish roads.

Common Lizard – Fast moving, these reptiles can sometimes be spotted basking in the sunshine on rocks and hedgerows.

Slow worm (BAP Species Truro)
– although they resemble a snake they are actually a legless lizard and are often found in gardens especially on warm sunny days.

Greater Horseshoe Bat
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Greater Horseshoe Bat

Roe Deer

– woodland walks may offer glimpses of deer seen through bare tree trunks when the white, heart-shaped rumps of retreating roe deer are easy to identify. Also found can be found on quite open places such Goss Moor and in the woods and fields of East Cornwall.

Greater Horseshoe Bat

Minster, the ancient church of Boscastle, is a sanctuary for this increasingly rare bat – home to the largest maternity roost in Cornwall (200).

Soay Sheep (Clay district)
These shy sheep which were originally from Scotland’s western isles are used around the Blackpool Pit near St Austell to graze on its slopes.

Grass snake (BAP Species Truro)

A harmless snake that can grow to over 2 m in length. Often live near ponds and rivers such as the River Fal – good swimmers!

Otter (BAP Species Bodmin Moor)(BAP Species Truro)

The River Camel has been designated as a Special Area of Conservation primarily for Otters. Very shy so not easy to spot.

SEALIFE

Pipefish

A close relative of the seahorse, these can be found under rocks and weed in rock pools.

Cornish Sucker Fish

This tadpole-like little fish can be found in sheltered rock pools – clinging to rocks and even to your hand with its suction cup fin!

Basking Shark

Basking Shark  -  illustration by Simon Riordan
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Basking Shark

A harmless plankton feeding shark up to 12 m in length and often seen off the Cornish coast.

Common Blenny

A well camouflaged rock pool fish that can breathe out of water as long as its skin stays moist.

Weever fish
Weever fish have poisonous spines on their dorsal fin and gills. Watch out if walking barefoot at low tide!

Mackerel
Commonly caught in the waters around Cornwall, Mackerel have a beautiful irridescent colouration with a streamlinedbody and forked tail for fast swimming!

Thick lipped Grey Mullet –
A great place to see these fish is on an incoming tide at Hayle Estuary feeding on seaweed crustaceans and worms.

Sea Bass
many regard Bass as the salmon of the sea and numbers have seen a steady increase since the introduction of legally protected bass nursery beds.

Anemone snakelock

an anemone with green tentacles with stinging cells that it uses to catch its prey.

Cowrie shell
These Tiny cowrie shells can be found when beach combing along the tide lines. Thought to bring good fortune if you keep one in your pocket.

Common starfish

Common Starfish -  illustration by Simon Riordan
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Common Starfish

A predator that eats molluscs by turning its stomach inside out into the mussel’s shell and then digesting its prey!

Pink Sea Fan

A beautiful hard coral that provides an important habitat for several rare species. In danger from commercial trawling methods.

Common Dolphin (BAP Species)
These dolphins live in pods of between 50 and 100 individuals. Living in deep offshore waters, you are most likely to spot these if travelling by boat although you may spy them off Gwennap Head.

Grey Seal

This shy mammal can be seen below the cliffs near Godrevy Head where they come ashore to raise their young.

MINIBEASTS

Golden ringed Dragonfly

a striking insect that favours acidic rivers and streams such as the Red River near Camborne.

Hummingbird Hawkmoth
looks and sounds remarkably like a real hummingbird while feeding on flowers such as Red Valerian and Honeysuckle with its long proboscis.

Silver studded butterfly

This rare butterfly can be seen on Hayle Towans where it feeds on the nectar from heather and gorse.

Great Green Bush Cricket
Our largest cricket with a very loud call made by rubbing its back legs together. Can be found in the dunes along Cornwall’s coastline.

Meadow Brown Butterfly

This butterfly can be spotted on hedgerows and cliffs where it uses a wide variety grasses to collect its nectar.