Penhale Dunes are the highest dunes in Britain, rising to 90 metres, with a depth of 50 metres of sand before rock is reached. They are also the largest dune system in Cornwall, covering approximately 650 hectares. The dunes are nationally recognised as a highly important bryophyte and lichen site and are an important site for rare plants such as shore dock, early gentian and the rare liverwort petalwort.
Plants you could see
Penhale Dunes are an outstanding example of a sand dune system with an exceptionally rich associated flora, including a number of rare plant species including Babington’s leek, wild leek and fragrant evening-primrose. Penhale Dunes is also an important site for shore dock, with possibly the largest concentration of plants on the UK mainland, and supports strong populations of early gentian. Other rarities include variegated horsetail, italian lords-and-ladies, slender spike rush, brackish water buttercup, Portland spurge and Cornish gentian. The site is also one of the richest moss sites in Cornwall with 19 local or rare species including a large population of petalwort. In addition, at least 66 lichen species have been recorded, including two nationally rare species.
The majority of the dunes are fixed grey dunes colonised by marram grass and red fescue as well as Portland spurge, which is rare outside Cornwall. Dune slacks, depressions between the dunes where marshy areas or pools may develop, have formed in the northern part of the site. Here, the drier slacks support short, rabbit grazed turf dominated by red fescue but damper areas are colonised by taller herbs such as meadowsweet, water mint, common reed, great willowherb, and marsh horsetail. The older dunes have been eroded to form flatter expanses of species-rich dune grassland dominated by red fescue, but other species encouraged by the base-rich conditions include salad burnet, yellow-wort, pyramidal orchid, viper’s bugloss, cowslip and flatsedge. Small patches of dune heath also occur. Maritime grassland occurs along the cliff top, dominated by red fescue, thrift and thyme. Maritime heath occurs on the heathlands between Ligger Point and Penhale Point, with bell heather dominant.
Image: View of Penhale Dunes © Michael Henley under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0