Area: 67.9 hectares.
Boundary amended by extension and deletion. In South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Part of original Berry Head to Froward Point SSSI.
Description and Reasons for Notification:
This site is important for its extensive area of limestone grassland containing many nationally rare plants and for its important assemblages of lichens. Also, the sea cliffs support the largest guillemot colony to be found along the south coast of England. In addition, important geological features are to be found at Shoalstone Beach.
Berry Head is a large headland of Devonian-age limestone. Reaching a height of 195 m, it is generally flat-topped, with a series of cliffs, steep slopes and ledges reaching down to the sea. The soils are shallow, well drained and rock exposures are common. The marine caves under Berry Head display a variety of calcite and mud formations and the lower levels are variably flooded with seawater. At Shoalstone Beach the wave cut platform exposes two sets of red sandstone-filled fissures (dykes) some of which are lined with large sparry calcite crystals. The fissures are cut into the Devonian Torquay Limestone and mark the initial stages of continental deposition in the Permo-Triassic basin of south west England on a basement of much older Palaeozoic rocks.
The areas of open grassland and broken cliff support rich and diverse plant communities characteristic of limestone. Species present include the rare white rock-rose Helianthemum appenninum, portland spurge Euphorbia portlandica, rock sea-lavender Limonium binervosum, goldilocks aster Aster linosyris and rock stonecrop Sedum forsterianum. Areas of short turf also support the rare species honewort Trinia glauca, small hare’s-ear Bupleurum baldense and small restharrow Ononis reclinata. Several species with a restricted distribution in Devon occur, including wild cabbage Brassica oleracea, autumn squill Scilla autumnalis and bee orchid Ophrys apifera.
Some areas on the plateau support a flora characteristic of acidic conditions. Gorse Ulex europaeus and western gorse U. gallii occur with heather Calluna vulgaris and bell heather Erica cinerea. Bramble Rubus fruticosus and bracken Pteridium aquilinum are present in patches and sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus and ash Fraxinus excelsior grow in sheltered places.
A lichen flora typical of limestone is present, with all the major groups represented. The most abundant genus is Caloplaca and in areas of short turf Bacidia muscorum can be found whilst patches of bare soil support Cladonia foliacea and Squamarina crassa. Other lichens of interest include Rinodina bischoffii on stable limestone pebbles, Toninia cervina in sheltered crevices and Verrucaria dufourii on the coastal rocks.
In recent years up to 400 guillemot Uria aalge spp albionis have been present on the cliffs, forming the only stable breeding colony of this species on the south coast. Other regularly nesting seabirds include kittiwake Rissa tridactyla, fulmar Fulmarus glacialis and herring gull Larus argentatus. The flooded marine caves with their wide range of salinity and light conditions have an interesting cave and marine fauna. Some are inhabited by greater and lesser horseshoe bats Rhinolophus ferrumequinum and R. hipposideros.