General characteristics

Coastal sand dunes, Sand beaches, Machair (80%)

Shingle, Sea cliffs, Islets (3%)

Inland water bodies (Standing water, Running water) (2%)

Bogs, Marshes, Water fringed vegetation, Fens (5%)

Heath, Scrub, Maquis and Garrigue, Phygrana (5%)

Dry grassland, Steppes (3%)

Mixed woodland (2%)

Habitats that are a primary reason for selection of this site

Fixed coastal dunes with herbaceous vegetation "grey dunes"  * Priority feature

Penhale Dunes, like Braunton Burrows, is in southwest England and also has a large area of fixed dunes with herbaceous vegetation on an extensive and exposed calcareous dune system where active geomorphological and successional processes occur. However, of particular interest are the communities developing on sand overlying the adjacent hillsides, which has been blown inland by strong winds. In this respect the site is functionally similar to Invernaver, on the north coast of Scotland, though the vegetation is very different owing to climatic differences.

Humid dune slacks

Penhale Dunes in southwest England is an extensive and exposed calcareous dune system where active geomorphological and successional dune processes occur. Humid dune slacks with an interesting flora are well-developed in the northern section where they often form marshy areas or pools. The drier slacks support short, rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus-grazed turf with species such as silverweed Potentilla anserina, common centaury Centaurium erythraea and pyramidal orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis. The damper slacks are colonised by taller herbs including meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria, water mint Mentha aquatica, great willowherb Epilobium hirsutum and water horsetail Equisetum palustre. The dune slacks also support a number of uncommon plant species including populations of the protected species, shore dock Rumex rupestris for which the site is also selected. Other low-lying wetlands within the site are important for sedge and fern-dominated communities.

Habitats present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for selection of this site

Shifting dunes along the shoreline with Ammophila arenaria  "white dunes"

Dunes with Salix repens ssp. argentea (Salicion arenariae)

Species that are a primary reason for selection of this site

Petalwort  Petalophyllum ralfsii

Penhale’s extensive dune system supports a large population of petalwort Petalophyllum ralfsii and is one of three sites selected to represent the species in southwest England. Recorded here since 1919, it occurs in damp, calcareous dune slacks.

Shore dock  Rumex rupestris

Penhale Dunes is an important sand-dune site for shore dock Rumex rupestris, with possibly the largest concentration of plants on the UK mainland. More than 50 plants were recorded at this site in the late 1980s; in 1994 the number had apparently declined to 33 fruiting plants but, following the discovery in the late 1990s of new plants away from the previously-known colonies, the total population is now thought to comprise >70 plants.

Early gentian  Gentianella anglica

This site supports strong populations of Gentianella anglica. Populations of G. anglica in Cornwall are now viewed as mixed populations of G. anglica ssp. anglica and its ‘hybrid’ with autumn gentian Gentianella amarella, G. x davidiana (Rich et al. 1997). They were formerly regarded as a subspecies, G. anglica ssp. cornubiensis (Pritchard 1959). Plants at Penhale Dunes have been found to range from pure G. anglica through a range of intermediate forms to pure G. amarella (Wilson 1999).

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