Wheal Bal mining landscape, West Penwith.  HES.


Natural Landscapes

The landscape is formed and shaped by a combination of climate, geology, natural features and human activity. The geographical setting of the nominated Site is dominated by its underlying geology and by the sea.

Much of the area is a gently sloping plateau of metamorphosed rock underlain and punctuated by granite intrusions. The granite forms a central spine, 240-300m above sea level in the west to over 400m in the east - which manifests itself at the surface by rough upland.  The moors are confined to the upland areas and provide some of the most important and appreciated 'wild' landscapes.  Their combination of altitude, climate and traditional management make these important habitats, typically un-improved grassland rich in plant species.  The wide open landscapes of the  moors, marshes and meadows support a number of rare plants and animals including golden plover, otter, and the marsh fritillary butterfly.

The land is incised by a number of river valleys harbouring rivers and estuaries that meander across much of the county, often arising high on the moorland spine as fast and tumbling streams before winding through farmland, towns and villages on their way to the sea.

Mining cliffscapes in West Penwith from Botallack to Pendeen Lighthouse.  HES.

The valleys are often quiet havens for wildlife, supporting reedbeds, wet willow carr, marshes, ancient woodlands, saltmarshes and mudflats. The north coast estuaries include the Camel, Gannel and Hayle rivers with ever-changing sand banks and channels at their mouths. On the south coast, the gentler cliffs are punctuated by the deep estuaries or drowned river valleys of the Fal, Helford, Fowey and Tamar rivers, many of which have been designated as candidate Special Areas of Conservation for the estuarine wildlife they support.
To the east the natural boundary of the River Tamar forms the border between the administrative counties of Cornwall and Devon. The nominated Site extends at this point beyond the Tamar Valley Mining District to the west Devon town of Tavistock.

Cornwall and west Devon was essentially a rural economy based on farming and fishing before industrialisation changed the face of the landscape. Cornwall now has more derelict land than any other county in England, with 12% of the total national resource at 4,888 ha. However one might view them, Cornwall's mine sites provide a home and protected sanctuary for many species of flora and fauna including animals such as rabbits, snakes, birds and field mice.

Kit Hill, Tamar Valley Mining District.  HES.

Associated with these habitats are disused engine houses, mine shafts and adits, which form important roosting sites for bats and for birds such as the barn owl, raven and stock dove. Common lizards and slow worms also colonise these areas. The bare ground and heathland areas are important for a wide range of invertebrates, including the naturally scarce species silver-studded blue, tiger-beetle wasp and western bee-fly.  Soil rich in copper supports many national rare species of liverwort and mosses as well as highly specialised plants.