Area: 213.38 hectares.
As a further notification with extension, the site incorporates Polperro West Cliffs SSSI, renotified in 1986.
Shore dock and sea knotgrass are listed on Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (as amended). Shore dock is also listed in Appendix 1 of the Berne Convention and Annex II of the E.C. Habitats and Species Directive (92/43/EEC).
Dartford warbler and peregrine are both listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (as amended) and also on Annex I of the European Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds (79/409/EEC).
The site partly lies within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Description and Reasons for Notification:
The site extends for approximately 10 kilometres along the south Cornish coast from Polruan in the west to Polperro in the east. The cliffs and foreshore along this section of coast comprise exposures of Lower Devonian mudrocks and sandstones belonging to the Dartmouth Group and the Meadfoot Group. The complex lithological variation and tectonic structure of these rocks, which includes the presence of thin bands of calcareous rocks in the Meadfoot Group, shapes the coastline and the nature of the habitats and species present.
The various habitats found are particularly important for their assemblage of plants, including the internationally threatened shore dock Rumex rupestris and nationally endangered sea knotgrass Polygonum maritimum. The site also supports significant populations of other notable plant species including the nationally scarce slender bird’s-foot trefoil Lotus angustissimus, hairy bird’s-foot trefoil Lotus subbiflorus, lanceolate spleenwort Asplenium obovatum, dotted sedge Carex punctata, maidenhair fern Adiantum capillus-veneris, wild cabbage Brassica oleracea, portland spurge Euphorbia portlandica, musk storksbill Erodium moschatum, purple ramping-fumitory Fumaria purpurea, Italian lords-and-ladies Arum italicum subsp. neglectum and ivy broomrape Orobanche hederae.
The shingle beach flora as at Great Lantic Beach contains a number of plants which have a very restricted distribution both nationally and in Cornwall. Those present include sea knotgrass, Ray’s knotgrass Polygonum oxyspermum subsp. raii, sea kale Crambe maritima, sea spurge Euphorbia paralias, sea sandwort Honkenya peploides, sand couch Elytriga atherica, sea bindweed Calystegia soldanella and Babington’s orache Atriplex glabriuscula. In places the lower cliffs, backshore areas and cliff crevices are influenced by freshwater seepages, flushes and springs. Shore dock occurs in a variety of the plant communities which can be found in these habitats. These include tall-herb vegetation dominated by common reed Phragmites australis with common fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica, red fescue Festuca rubra and creeping bent Agrostis stolonifera and, on wet dripping rocks, in vegetation filled crevices with sea mayweed Triplospermum maritimum and creeping bent.
The cliffs and slopes support a variety of maritime rock crevice and cliff ledge plant communities, maritime cliff, cliff top and sub-maritime grasslands, and flushes. These are found alongside or amongst large areas of scrub including gorse Ulex europaeus scrub, blackthorn Prunus spinosa, bramble Rubus fruticosus, bracken Pteridium aquilinum and carpets of ivy Hedera helix. This rich mix of coastal habitats supports a wide range of characteristic and uncommon wildlife.
Plants of particular interest along the cliffs include narrow-leaved everlasting-pea Lathyrus sylvestris and within rock crevices the nationally scarce lanceolate spleenwort Asplenium billotii, maidenhair fern Adiantum capillus-veneris and ivy broomrape Orobanche hederae. The cliff lands are also of note for the presence of calcicole species such as wild privet Ligustrum vulgare, madder Rubia peregrina and salad burnet Sanguisorba minor and lichens including Solenopsora candicans and Toninia caeruleonigricans. These reflect the presence of calcareous strata in the underlying geology. Associated therophyte vegetation includes a typical range of species such as early hair-grass Aira caryophyllea, sheep’s fescue Festuca ovina, least soft-brome Bromus hordeaceus ssp. ferronii and wild thyme Thymus polytrichus. Areas of bracken invaded grassland supports mixtures of sweet vernal-grass Anthoxanthum odoratum, red fescue, cock’s-foot Dactylis glomerata, bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scriptus and wood sage Teucrium scorodonia.
There is limited development of red fescue dominated maritime grassland below the cliff-land scrub communities. Rocky outcrops support cliff ledge species and grassland with rock samphire Crithmum maritimum, red fescue and in places the nationally scarce wild cabbage. The cliff faces support a sparse vegetation cover of thrift Armeria maritima, English stonecrop Sedum anglicum, wild carrot Daucus carota, sea campion Silene maritima, red fescue and other maritime species. In addition there are some slatey screes present with a sparse vegetation cover including sea beet Beta vulgaris, sorrel Rumex acetosa and oxeye daisy Leucanthemum vulgare. The scarce tree mallow Lavatera arborea is present in various places including a rocky ledge on Pencarrow Head and on the cliffs at Polperro.
A sizeable area of western gorse Ulex gallii heath is also present, notably on Lansallos cliff, with heather Calluna vulgaris and bell heather Erica cinerea occurring locally. A number of small streams cut through the cliffs giving rise to a more species rich flush vegetation with common reed dominant.
Fine-textured more species-rich grassland is present locally, concentrated in mown strips adjacent to the coastal path. This is made up of mixtures of grasses and herbs including red fescue, Yorkshire fog Holcus lanatus, sweet vernal-grass, common bent Agrostis capillaris, yarrow Achillea millefolium, woodrush Luzula campestris, common dog-violet Viola riviniana, ribwort plantain Plantago lanceolata, common cat’s-ear Hypochoeris radicata, common bird’s-foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus, wild thyme, common milkwort Polygala vulgaris, common knapweed Centaurea nigra, common restharrow Ononis repens and the scarce slender bird’s-foot trefoil. Grassy embankmentsamongst scrub contain ribwort plantain, betony Betonica officinalis, wild thyme, common milkwort, oxeye daisy, common restharrow, sheep’s-bit Jasione montana, eyebright Euphrasia nemorosa and the nationally scarce hairy bird’s-foot trefoil. Autumn lady’s tresses orchid Spiranthes spiralis and early purple-orchid Orchis mascula are also present locally.
A number of small abandoned bulb fields to the west of Polperro are surrounded by high shelter belt hedges and ancient paths and tracks. These areas contain a number of notable plant species including the nationally scarce purple ramping fumitory and Italian lords-and-ladies and the uncommon white ramping fumitory Fumaria capreolata.
The site also supports extensive areas of species-rich unimproved grassland such as at East Coombe. The main grass species present are sweet vernal-grass, crested dog’s-tail Cynosurus cristatus, common bent Agrostis capillaris and red fescue. The rich diversity of other species present include common dog-violet, common milkwort, glaucous sedge Carex flacca, squinancywort Asperula cynanchica, common centaury Centaurium erythraea, common mouse-ear Cerastium fontanum and germander speedwell Veronica chamaedrys with good numbers of the rather local pale flax Linum bienne. Large areas of very good quality, unimproved, neutral grassland, as found here, are very scarce nationally and are extremely rare in a Cornish context. Soil invertebrate communities are of interest, and the large extent of pasture supports the hornet robber fly Asilus crabroniformis – a species which has become scarce over much of its former British range.
The considerable invertebrate interest includes the uncommon scarlet tiger moth Callimorpha dominula and the nationally scarce pearl-bordered fritillary Boloria euphrosyne associated with the scrubby gorse heath of Lansallos Cliff. The Red Data Book bug Trapezonotus ullrichi is associated with oxeye daisy where it survives along path margins and the Red Data Book cranefly Limonia goritiensis is associated with the extensive wet rock faces of the cliffs. The invertebrate interest also includes a local species of weevil Apion rubens and a species of scorpion fly Panorpa cognata not previously recorded in Cornwall.
Nationally scarce moss, liverwort and lichen species include Grimmia trichophylla var. subsquarrosa, Riccia crozalsii and Solenopsora holophaea respectively.
The breeding bird community is very typical of Cornish clifflands, with relatively large numbers of stonechat Saxicola torquata, linnet Acanthis cannabina and whitethroat Sylvia communis. A wider variety of songbirds are dependent on cliff scrub in the spring and autumn as migrant birds. The Red Data Book listed Dartford warbler Sylvia undata has also been reported at Lansallos Cliff. The cliffs also support the Red Data Book listed peregrine Falco peregrinis and small breeding populations of shags Phalacrocorax aristotelis and fulmars Fulmaris glacialis.