Area: 99.0 hectares.
Description and Reasons for Notification:
In North Devon AONB and Structure Plan Coastal Preservation Area. Owned by National Trust above High Water Mark.
The site is primarily of interest for its maritime heath, but also displays a variety of coastal, cliff and foreshore habitats.
Morte Point forms the north-west corner of North Devon District. Its flanks face north on to the Bristol Channel and west to the Atlantic Ocean. The cliffs are 50 to 100 metres high and the land above rises steeply to some 450 metres. There is a variety of Upper Devonian rocks, mainly slates and sandstones, the overlying soils being generally thin and leached.
Heather Calluna vulgaris, bell heather Erica cinerea and western gorse Ulex gallii are abundant over the northern slopes, mixed with grassland and scrub. On steeper slopes there are extensive areas of bracken Pteridium aquilinum and bramble Rubus fruticosus, sometimes intermixed with the heathers; with taller scrub of European gorse U. europaeus and blackthorn Prunus spinosa. Some of the grassland is dominated by purple moor-grass Molinia caerulea often in tussocks, and there are many ant-hills. In sheltered areas with somewhat richer soil, plants such as primrose Primula vulgaris and bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta occur.
On the less-steep grazed land, perennial rye-grass Lolium perenne, crested dog’s-tail Cynosurus cristatus and cock’s-foot Dactylis glomerata are common. Grasses of the cliffs and exposed areas include red fescue Festuca rubra and Yorkshire fog Holcus lanatus, while other characteristic species of these areas are thrift Armeria maritima, rock samphire Crithmum maritimum, wild thyme Thymus polytrichus, common sorrel Rumex acetosa and the ribwort and buck’s-horn plantains Plantago lanceolata and P. coronopus. Other common species near the cliff tops are common bird’s-foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus, tormentil Potentilla erecta and sheep’s-bit Jasione montana. Sea heath Frankenia laevis has been recorded here.
Sea birds including gulls Larus spp. and fulmar Fulmarus glacialis breed on the cliffs, with cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo and shag P. aristotelis on the lower rocks.