Cornish lowland heath set to receive national protection

A historic moorland landscape in west Cornwall, immortalised in the Poldark novels, has been notified as a Site of Special and Scientific Interest (SSSI) in recognition of its national importance for wildlife.

Penwith Moors is at the most south-western extreme of mainland Britain and offers a unique and extensive mosaic of lowland heath, grassland, acid fen and pockets of woodland The SSSI will protect an ancient landscape shaped over centuries through the careful stewardship of generations of land managers.

The designation will recognise the resulting special features of 59 parcels of semi-natural habitat and farmland spanning over 3,100 hectares, stretching from St Just to St Ives.

The site is home to rare and endangered plants like coral-necklace, pale dog-violet, pillwort and Cornish moneywort which are found amongst the collection of habitats Rare lichens grow on the outcrops of granite rock, with the song of Dartford warblers drifting across the landscape’s heathlands.

The area also supports a rich diversity of invertebrates nestled in the heathland.

The site dates back to prehistoric times and has a greater concentration of archaeological and heritage sites than any other comparable area in Western Europe.

Standing stones, circles and quoits adorn the landscape alongside more recent mining structures reflecting the Cornwall’s illustrious tin, gold and copper mining history.

Wesley Smyth, Area Manager at Natural England said: “An incredible variety of rare plants, insects and birds thrive in the rich tapestry of the Penwith Moors landscape.

“This SSSI designation will help protect and restore sites of national importance to wildlife, with farming and nature continuing to co-exist and shape the landscape.

“We will continue to support farmers and the local people who live, work and visit the Penwith Moors to drive nature recovery and support sustainable uses for this site.”

Penwith Moors also has a long history of agriculture and livestock grazing, with many of the 4000 year old field systems still used for their original purpose.

Natural England recognises these deep traditions and will continue to work in partnership with local landowners, farmers and the community to promote sustainable farming and nature recovery.

Stunning landscapes such as Penwith Moors are a huge asset for the Cornish economy, drawing in investment from the national and international tourisms sectors.

Much of the SSSI benefits from public access meaning local communities enjoy access to high quality nature rich spaces for health and well-being as well as the fun and relaxation such spaces inspire.

The decision to notify this area as an SSSI follows extensive assessments by Natural England of its habitats and species, including specially commissioned wildlife experts, which highlighted the importance of the moors for wildlife.

The designation will support landscape scale conservation, to restore habitats in unfavourable condition where wildlife is declining.

The protections created by the SSSI designation will prevent damaging activities from taking place, and also promote sustainable land management practices which benefit habitats and species.

Paul St Pierre, Conservation Officer at the RSPB said: “Building on significant public investment through partnerships with landowners and managers, this proposed designation will give important heathland habitats and their unique wildlife, like Dartford warbler the protection they deserve, in one of their largest remaining unprotected areas in southern England, and put this iconic area on the map as a place to invest in nature.”

The government has laid out its ambitions in the 25 Year Environment Plan for a growing and resilient network of land, water and sea that is richer in plants and wildlife, and has committed to a legal target to halt the decline of nature by 2030 underpinned by the Environment Act.

Following the notification, a four-month period of consultation will open during which anyone may comment on, or object to, the notification.

The SSSI designation will then be confirmed, amended or withdrawn within nine months of the notification.

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