North Cornwall & Devon Coastal Woods IPA
Location: Begins at Start Point, west of the A39 at Camelford and runs north and east to near Peppercombe.
Grid Reference: SS 232 274
The dramatic coastal cliffs on these northern shores are clothed in ancient, windswept woodlands, heathlands and cliff-top grassland that abound with amazing communities of lichens, mosses and flowers, some of which are unique to the area.This dramatic stretch of coast along the Devon and Cornwall border supports an astonishing mixture of habitats. The steep sea cliffs can have a thick covering of vegetation, sometimes with grassland, sometimes with heath and scrub, and sometimes with ancient woodland, each habitat bringing their own suite of characteristic plants and flowers. In places, these communities of plants extend inland, a mosaic of vegetation clothing the cliff tops, sheltered valleys and exposed hilltops.
The Atlantic coast woods are dominated by oak with occasional ash, rich and rowan, but also include the rare Devon whitebeam, a shrub or small tree found only here and a small area of south-east Ireland, and wild service tree, . On the ground great wood-rush can be dominant, but richer soils permit the growth of bugle, sanicle and sweet woodruff, while more acidic soils support heather (ling) and bilberry with frequent cow wheat. Ferns are abundant, including hay-scented buckler fern and in spring there are abundant bluebells, ransoms and lords-and-ladies. In some places, such as Dizzard Point, the extreme wind has pruned the entire woodland to under eight metres high, a dwarf forest of oak and wild service-tree.
In this part of the world the coastal woodlands tend to be drier and sunnier than elsewhere in the UK and are important for a number of rare ‘southern-oceanic’ lichens, mosses and liverworts. Over 120 lichen species have been recorded, including many rarities such as tree lungwort, parchment lichen, red-eyed shingle lichen and necklace lichen. Of the mosses, Welsh pocket-moss, spotty featherwort and rustwort are among many special species. Many of these species indicate the great age of these woodlands.
On more open rocky cliffs, rock sea-lavender and Portland spurge can be found along with madder, golden-samphire and, in sheltered spots, the delicate fronds of maidenhair fern.
The coastal cliff-top grasslands are often lime-rich and packed with unusual flowers. As well as a remarkable range of colours in the kidney vetch, autumn squill and hairy birds-foot-trefoil can both be abundant, along with adders-tongue fern, dwarf thistle, autumn gentian and the prostrate form of dyer's greenweed. In a few places, our very rare native chives flourish in wetter hollows and where ground water seeps through the grass wavy St John's-wort can grow.
In places the grassland has a more heathy character and can be extremely rich in lichens. Twenty-six species of reindeer moss have been found, often growing in abundance. In these poorer soils dyer’s greenweed, musk thistle and heath pearlwort also grow along with heather and bell heather, while the small trickling streams support a ribbon of moisture lovers, including royal fern, slender club-rush and brookweed. Along their banks, the delightful wood vetch can sometimes be found scrambling around and in rougher grassland, Babington’s leek is a dramatic feature, its tall purple seed-heads standing out above the hedgerows in summer.