Rame Head

Area: 160.09 hectares.

A new site. Site listed in the Geological Conservation Review (GCR). Incorporates Bull Cove SSSI, previously notified in 1988. Partly within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). 

Description and Reasons for Notification:

The site extends for approximately 8 kilometres along the south Cornwall coast from the east side of Rame Head to Oldhouse Cove, near Portwrinkle in the west. The coastal cliff habitats are of particular importance for the occurrence of the largest colony of the nationally rare shore dock Rumex rupestris* in mainland Britain. In addition, the site also supports significant populations of other rare plant species including the nationally rare slender birds-foot-trefoil Lotus angustissimus** and early meadow-grass Poa infirma**. 

Whitsand Bay is also of special interest for its geology and coastal geomorphology. The Dartmouth Beds within Bull Cove contain a fossiliferous horizon which has yielded important marine fossils. Whitsand Bay is one of a suite of major south-west facing beaches on the English Channel coast backed by a cliff-line of Devonian grits and slates exhibiting a slope-over-wall’ form and little affected by retreat. 


This locality shows strata belonging to the Dartmouth Beds which here are remarkable for they yield marine fossils, dating the deposits to the mid or late Siegenian. This is an important record as the Dartmouth Beds are typically non-marine and referable to the Old Red Sandstone magnafacies. These deposits indicate a temporary marine transgression, anticipating the establishment of fully marine conditions as represented by the overlying Meadfoot Group, and are significant in elucidating the complex story of the migration of the Devonian shoreline. 


Whitsand Bay is one of a suite of major south-west facing beaches on the English Channel coast. The bay occupies 8 kilometres of the Cornish coastline between Rame Head and Portwrinkle, and is backed by a cliff- line of Devonian grits and slates having a slope-over-wall’ form, which is little affected by coastal retreat. In this respect Whitsand Bay contrasts with other sites, such as south-west Isle of Wight and the Seven Sisters, where similarly aligned beaches are backed by rapidly eroding cliffs and have as a result, relatively large contemporary sediment inputs. The beach at Whitsand Bay is formed mainly of sand with some shingle derived from the locally outcropping Lower Devonian grits and slates. The beach is unusual in lacking flint shingle. The overall form of the bay is of considerable antiquity and demonstrates the long timescale over which many features of the English coast may have developed. 

Whitsand Bay is a nationally important site for coastal geomorphology and is typical of a beach aligned to south-west swell, where the beach volume is small, the sediment sandy, and the contemporary input of sediment negligible. 


In places the lower cliffs, raised beach, wave cut platforms backshore areas and cliff crevices are affected by freshwater seepages, flushes and springs. These coastal wetland habitats support the largest population of the nationally rare shore dock in mainland Britain.This extremely rare species occurs in a variety of seepage communities, including tall-herb vegetation dominated by common reed Phragmites australis, on wet, dripping rocks and vegetation filled crevices with rock samphire Crithmum maritimum and occasionally on more open wet shingle and sand habitats in association with spear-leaved orache Atriplex prostrata and sea beet Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima

Much of the upper cliff slope and cliff top are covered with dense scrub vegetation, dominated by European gorse Ulex europaeus, bracken Pteridium aquilinum, blackthorn Prunus spinosa and bramble Rubus fruticosus. Maritime grassland communities occur along this section of coast, often on rocky outcrops or on the trimmed verges of the coastal footpaths which traverse the site. These areas of short grassland turf are of particular interest as they support strong populations of two nationally rare plants; slender birds-foot-trefoil and early meadow-grass, growing in association with ribwort plantain Plantago lanceolata, Yorkshire fog Holcus lanatus, common bent Agrostis capillaris, sheeps-fescue Festuca ovina, sweet vernal-grass Anthoxanthum odoratum, wild carrot Daucus carota, cats-ear Hypochoeris radicata and sheep’s sorrel Rumex acetosella

In addition two nationally scarce plant species, musk storks-bill Erodium moschatum and rock sea-lavender Limonium britannicum subsp. coombense, var. coombense also occur in these more open short sward and rocky cliff ledge habitats, together with the maritime variety of the common broomrape Orobanche minor var. maritima

   * Rumex rupestris – Shore Dock, is listed on:- 

   Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. 

            Appendix I of the Berne Convention. 

            Annex II of the EC Habitats & Species Directive (Council 
Directive 92/43/EEC) 

            Red Data Book of rare and endangered plant species. 
** Poa infirma and Lotus angustissimus are listed in:-
• Red Data Book of rare and endangered plant species.