Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
The Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Management Plan 2011 - 2016
08 South Coast Western
This AONB section includes the Lizard Peninsula, extending as far as Marazion in the west, including the Helford Ria (a flooded river valley estuary) and to the outskirts of Falmouth in the east.
Approximately 19,300 hectares or just under 75 square miles, forming 20% of Cornwall AONB.
Statement of Significance
This beautiful and extensive section of the Cornwall
AONB includes three linked but nonetheless distinctly
differing areas of landscape character. These are
described separately below. Firstly from St Michaels
Mount to Halzephron Cliff, secondly the Lizard
Peninsula and thirdly the Helford River and Estuary.
St Michael’s Mount to Halzephron Cliff
Partially sheltered by West Penwith from the full force
of Atlantic storms, the coastline of Mount’s Bay has
a soft profile, including extensive linear cliffs whose
complex geology adds variety to the coastline. In
the west, St Michael’s Mount is a granite intrusion
linked at low tide by an ancient cobbled causeway to
the nearby shore of low earthy cliffs that in the east
extend past Perranuthnoe giving way around Prussia Cove to progressively higher cliffs punctuated by rocky headlands. At Rinsey Head and Trewavas granite outcrops make the cliffs ever more sheer and rugged whilst around Porthleven and further east a complex coastal geology including folded slates displays spectacular quartz veining.
These varied cliffs are interspersed with stretches of popular gently sloping south facing sandy beaches such as at Praa Sands, Porthleven Sands and Gunwalloe beach. An unusual feature is the broad shingle Loe Bar that is all that separates the sea from Cornwall’s largest fresh water lake, the Loe Pool. Inland of the cliffs gentle south facing coastal slopes lead to a subtly rolling landscape interspersed with bold rounded valley sides between which short
streams flow quietly to the coast. Extensive sweeping views around the broad arc of Mounts Bay focus awareness on the elemental qualities of the coastline, whereas inland, visual enclosure mixes with broader views across the wider landscape.
The permanent greens of improved pasture are interspersed with considerable arable use lending great seasonal variation from the textured browns of ploughed soils, rows of fresh green crops such as early potatoes and the bright yellows of daffodil fields in spring. Medium sized fields with irregular boundaries that are typical of early enclosure mix with other more recently enclosed larger straight sided fields that exaggerate a sense of openness. The sometimes bare stone faces of Cornish hedges display their link with the locally variation in the types of stone and typically are topped just by a coarse growth of turf with wild flowers and brambles. Tough feathery Tamarisk hedges are locally characteristic near some parts of the coast.
The rounded cliffs are clothed with a broad fringe of heathland and scrub adding to their rugged untamed character. Linear woodlands occur along valleys including that of the National Trust owned Penrose Estate round the Loe Pool with its extensive mixed conifer and broadleaved plantations edged by extensive waterside reed beds.
St Michael’s Mount is crowned by the clustered pointed turrets and buildings of an historic priory forming a distinctive silhouette recognisable across all of Mounts Bay. A medieval house survives at Pengersick whose fortified tower was used as a refuge from North African Barbary Pirates on slave capturing raids along this coast. Disused historic engine houses cling to the cliff slopes at Trewavas and Rinsey. The influence of mining is also noticeable
inland in the west with spoil heaps, engine house remains and terraced former miners cottages that add locally to the density of the otherwise mostly rural settlement pattern of farmsteads and hamlets. The larger settlement at Porthleven is clustered around an
historic granite harbour that once served the mining industry and recent housing has grown up at popular local beaches for example at Perranuthnoe and Praa Sands. Granite and killas are typical local building materials and settlements are linked by a network of many small lanes.
The Lizard Peninsula
This Lizard Peninsula includes the most southerly
point of mainland Britain and is framed all round
by majestic high cliffs indented with slender coves.
The cliffs are especially vertical and rocky at the
exposed west coast but remain consistently rugged
and steep elsewhere punctuated throughout by
attractive sandy beaches tightly enclosed by rocky
headlands. The Lizard Peninsula’s unique geology
includes Serpentine, Gabbro, Schists, Gneiss and
Slates all exposed in the cliffs lending variety of
texture, form and colour to this spectacular coastline.
The serpentine formations rising out of the sands
of Kynance Cove are an often depicted view
representing the best of Cornwall’s coastal scenery.
From the cliffs there is a marked sometimes sharp transition to the gently undulating plateau that stretches inland to the interior of the peninsula giving an overriding impression of general flatness. However there is abundant variety in the scenery of the Lizard resulting in part from local variations in geology. The undulating north originates from the soft underlying Devonian Rocks whilst Serpentine gives rise to the almost unrelieved flatness of the central plateau at the heart of the peninsula with Gabbro and Hornblende Schists in the east generating a gently rolling landscape.
Small streams etch their narrow valleys across the plateau as they flow quietly toward the coast to cross beaches as at Church, Poldhu and Polurrian Coves in the north west, sometimes tumbling through incised channels cut through rocky cliffs further south as at Kynance Cove, Pistil Meadow and Housel Bay. In land of Church and Poldhu Coves are broad level meandering valley bottoms whereas the plateau drainage is hindered by the
lack of slopes resulting in an intriguing matrix of pools and bogs.
This stunningly dramatic and rugged coast affords wide ranging views across the open seas and busy shipping lanes of the English Channel. Inland the enclosed intimacy of areas of gently undulating land contrasts with the sweeping panoramas over the open vastness of the unenclosed downland plateau where a strong sense of isolation and exposure prevails.
Farming is primarily pastoral but with some arable especially for crops such as potatoes and the widespread intricate pattern of medium sized fields with irregular boundaries indicates anciently enclosed land from the medieval period. In parts such as the south east especially small and unevenly shaped fields indicate a prehistoric origin. Traditionally the open heathland would have been used for summer grazing but larger straight sided fields around the margins of this rough ground attest to its partial recent enclosure. However significant and extensive tracts of open unenclosed rough downland remain, grazed by hardy cattle and ponies that maintain the open landscape and its nationally important flora.
The materials used in Cornish hedges reflect closely
the local differences in geology lending fascinating
variations in appearance but all with a rubble
construction. On the hedges surviving elms have
in places regrown but generally since the impact
of Dutch Elm disease these no longer form dense
screens. Woodland occurs as small pockets on
farms, alongside streams and in sheltered valleys
emphasising their courses through the landscape.
The vegetation of the downs which is now subject
to less regular grazing than in the past is locally
progressing toward a cover of willow scrub creating a
sense of enclosure on previously open ground. Inland
of Church and Poldhu coves extensive reed beds
snake inland drawing the eye along the wet valley
bottoms. A varied and unique flora and a fauna of
national significance including many rare species has established over the downs notably lowland heathland but including wet flushes and ephemeral pools. Vegetated sand dunes occur at Kennack Sands and at Church Cove where a golf course has domesticated their vast rounded profile. Mixed heathland, rough ground and scrub is extensive around most of the coast enhancing its untamed character.
Rough ground on the downs and around the coast has great time depth from the numerous visible prehistoric remains including Bronze Age barrows and other ceremonial features along with enigmatic vestiges of Iron Age coastal fortifications. At Lizard Point are the prominent twin towers of the still used historic lighthouse with its beam sweeping the surrounding countryside at night or its haunting fog horn echoing eerily through a blanket of sea fog. The large round dishes of the Goonhilly earth station dominate the downs and are frequently glimpsed over hedgerows.
A sparse pattern of farmsteads with ancient Cornish names is dispersed through the anciently enclosed land and isolated farms and cottages face gales along the west facing coast. Villages such as Gunwalloe, Mullion, Cadgwith and Coverack have grown up around their small fishing coves otherwise inland there are just a few scattered villages and hamlets. Local stone is evidenced in the vernacular of buildings for example Serpentine in Kuggar and
Gabbro in the east with limed render and thatch still evident at settlements such as Ruan Minor and Cadgwith. From the village of St Keverne, Michael An Gof led the Cornish uprising in protest against the punitive taxes levied by Henry VII.
Winding narrow local roads connect farms and open trackways cross the downs, some now little used and overgrown. Footpaths feature distinctive Serpentine stiles often polished from decades of constant use and around Lizard village there are raised footpaths along the tops of especially broad Cornish hedges.
Traditional local fishing with colourful small boats still adds interest and activity at some small coves adding animation at the heart of the local communities for example at Cadgwith and Porthoustock.
Helford River and Estuary
This area offers great contrast to the often open
and exposed landscape of much of the Lizard.
From the numerous small sinuous creeks to the
broad expanse of the main estuary the Helford
dominates this area forming both a central focus
and a barrier. The changing light and character as
the tidal waters ebb and flow is especially noticeable
in the extensive intricate branching web of side
waters in their unceasing cycle between reflective
water and exposed wet glistening mud around a
remaining ribbon of water. The enclosing steep
slopes extend from the waters edge to a higher
surrounding rolling topography of convex slopes
incised by the steep valleys of the innumerable small streams that drain to the creeks.
The dominant land cover enveloping the river
system and its tributary valleys is dense mature
often ancient sessile oak woodland extending right
down to the waters edge where branches dip into
the water forming a timeless world of water and
trees. Despite their apparently wild and untouched
appearance these woodlands had from time
immemorial until recent years been managed for
timber, tannin and fuel production. Distinctive stately
mature ornamental pines around the mouth of the
river indicate more domesticated land use and the
lush ornamental and exotic vegetation of large estate gardens is especially characteristic of parts of the sheltered river banks.
This heavily wooded landscape of extraordinary enclosure, shelter and intimacy has startling
contrasts where open views are glimpsed across seemingly vast stretches of open river and even across the sea to the distant Roseland coast far beyond. This contrasting openness is especially prevalent toward the mouth of the river with its low sloping cliffs that are covered in coastal heathland. Inland of the coastal rough ground to each side of the river mouth mixed pasture and arable farmland occupies much of the gentle rounded slopes. The mostly medium sized fields are bound by winding Cornish Hedges, many supporting trees.
The densely wooded Frenchman’s Creek was made famous by Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name and in such wooded side creeks and along the banks of the main river numerous almost concealed small quays can be found. On the south facing shores are the extensive Country House estates of Trebah and Glendurgan and on the north facing shore Trelowarren each with their extensive lush ornamental landscapes. Vestigial earthworks of
prehistoric enclosed farmsteads on the slopes above the Helford indicate a long history of settlement and the current settlement pattern of villages clustered at the heads of creeks dates from times when the water was the primary means of communication and transport. The more remote and less accessible southern shore is noticeably less inhabited than the
north side of the river. The largest village is Gweek at the rivers navigable limit where it formerly served as a substantial port for the nearby town of Helston and its hinterland. Local buildings are characteristically small white cottages bunched together. The only link between the north and south shores is a modest passenger ferry.
Many small leisure boats find sheltered moorings in the estuary. There is some commercial activity such as oyster dredging along with boat building and repairs at Gweek where many boats are moored as dwellings.
• The National Trust manages significant and extensive
properties around the coast from St Michael’s Mount,
Rinsey, Penrose, Mullion and Poldhu, Predannack
and Kynance, Lizard Point, Cadgwith to Poltesco
and Coverack and the south side of the Helford.
The National Trust tackle scrub encroachment on
some coastal land using grazing by ponies and cattle.
• Parish Plans are in place for: Cury; Grade Ruan; St Keverne; Manaccan and St Anthony; Mawnan; ‘The Five Parishes’ and Mawgan-in-Meneage.
• Active quarrying operations are controlled under the terms of updated planning conditions approved under the Review of Mineral Planning Permissions.
• The ‘Linking the Lizard’ initiative seeks to establish a landscape scale approach to landscape and habitat management.
• The Lizard Peninsula Heritage Trust has undertaken a survey of roadside heritage assets including milestones, fingerposts, war memorials, post-boxes, stiles etc.
• Natural England manage the Lizard National Nature Reserve which includes much of the
• Cornwall Biodiversity Initiative aims include support for the ‘Linking the Lizard’ initiative and
‘All of the Coast’ habitat enhancements for birds.
• The ancient sessile oak woodlands around the Helford have fallen out of productive and economic management.
• The Helford Estuary is included in a candidate Special Area of Conservation, one of only two being proposed for large shallow inlets and bays, saltmarshes, intertidal mudflats and subtidal sandbanks (the other being Plymouth Sound).
• A candidate Special Area of Conservation is proposed around the Lizard coast from Gunwalloe Fishing Cove, extending round Lizard Point to Carrick Luz near Kennack Cove. The designation is proposed for submerged reefs.
• Larger replacement wind turbines have been
approved and installed at Bonython windfarm.
• Caravan sites near the coast are often visually intrusive due to location, layout, site design and poor mitigation for example near Kennack Sands.
• Large scale quarrying operations for aggregates between Dean Point and Porthallow have
created extensive excavations, areas of tipping and bulk loading and transport structures along the coastline and are poorly integrated with the local landscape.
• Forecast sea level rise could affect local harbours, fisheries and beaches such as at
Porthleven, Gweek, Cadgwith, Coverack and Maenporth.
• Loe Pool is affected by nutrient enrichment both from diffuse and point sources. Natural seasonal water level changes within Loe Pool are affected by the Helston flood alleviation scheme.
• Valley woodlands both inland and coastal were originally primarily Sessile Oak with Hazel with Alder – but lack of local native seed sources or lack of management is allowing Sycamore to become locally dominant in woodland regeneration.
• Establishment of the conifer plantations on the Lizard has increased their visual intrusion on
• In parts of this section there was significant loss to disease of hedgerow elm trees with impacts on habitat connectivity and landscape character.
South Coast Western - Guiding Principles
It is intended that these local guiding principles will support the actions of the AONB Partnership and other stakeholders and that their actions will be informed by them. Note: Some local issues may be addressed by strategic policies.
|GP08.1||Ensure that the conservation and enhancement of the special qualities of the AONB is fully taken into account in strategies, plans and guidance produced to address development, transport and service provision in and around the AONB, for example including regard to the potential urban expansion of Falmouth. Particular care should be taken to ensure that no development is permitted outside the AONB which would damage its natural beauty, character and special qualities.|
|GP08.2||Seek reduction of landscape and visual impacts and better integration at existing holiday sites, visitor infrastructure, car parks and signage. Pay particular attention to respecting local character in external works, landscaping and site design and have particular regard to increase in scale, massing and associated development for example at Marazion, Perranuthnoe, Porthleven, Praa Sands, Mullion and Kennack Sands.|
|GP08.3||Support local employment and affordable housing development that meets identified local need in settlements with access to local services provided that by location and design this fully respects historic settlement pattern and local vernacular including characteristic use of local materials and that conserves and enhances the natural beauty of the AONB.|
|GP08.4||Consider the cumulative landscape and
visual impact from new individual developments on
local character and tranquillity for example along the
shores and slopes around the Helford estuary.
|GP08.5||Require an assessment of the landscape,
visual and cumulative impacts of proposals for tall
structures such as wind turbines and communications infrastructure that are likely to have more than
localised impact, and require this to be assessed within the context of the evidence base including the emerging Renewable and Low Carbon Energy Supplementary Planning Document. Particular regard should be paid to the open plateau at Goonhilly Downs and the coast. Those proposals which have an adverse impact on natural beauty should not be
|GP08.6||Seek improved phased and final restoration
at West of England and Dean quarries to final
landforms and vegetation communities consistent
with local landscape character including at the
earliest possible stages permanent appropriate
restoration along coast path routes and completed
working areas. Support further measures to protect and enhance environmental quality when existing quarrying permissions are reviewed.
|GP08.7||Encourage characteristic inclusion of
local materials and vernacular design in new built
development, public realm and highways works and
rights of way infrastructure using Granite, Serpentine, Gabbro and Schists as appropriate to reflect the varied geodiversity of this section.
|GP08.8||Seek reduction in the visual impact of overhead cables by undergrounding in affected villages for example Porthleven, Mullion, St Keverne, Lizard, Gweek and Cury.|
|GP08.9||Support local initiatives to protect roadside
heritage assets that contribute to local character such
as milestones, fingerposts, memorials and locally
distinctive stiles etc.
|GP08.10||Support appropriate improvements to footpath access around the Helford River and its creeks with respect to the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 provided that this does not encourage an increase in traffic levels or the provision of further car parks and that this conserves and enhances the natural beauty.|
|GP08.11||Support appropriate improvements to coastal footpath access between Godrevy Cove and Porthallow provided that this respects local landscape character and conserves and enhances the natural beauty.|
|GP08.12||Support a landscape scale initiative to integrate enhancement of biodiversity with protection of historic environment and promotion of a vibrant local rural economy and community through the full involvement of local people, land managers and stakeholder organisations and build consensus for the long term management of the Lizard.|
|GP08.13||Support the continuation of small scale
sustainable fisheries in order to maintain community
vibrancy providing that this conserves and enhances
local character and natural assets for example at local coves such as at Porthleven, Mullion, Cadgwith, Coverack, Porthoustock, Porthallow and within the creeks of the Helford Estuary.
|GP08.14||Support initiatives which consider with communities the long term future of coastal areas e.g. Porthleven, Gweek, Coverack and Maenporth in respect to predicted effects of sea level rise and increased storminess and the direction for management set out within the Shoreline Management Plan.|
|GP08.15||Encourage the management of mining
features which are outside of the World Heritage Site,
south of the A394 around Perranuthnoe, Rosudgeon,
Kennegy, Praa Sands and Porthleven.
|GP08.16||Seek enhancement of the wider setting of
St Michael’s Mount including sea front car parking
by design changes to layout, location, minimising
infrastructure, enhanced boundary treatments, characteristic use of local materials in external works and appropriate vegetation.
|GP08.17||Support measures to improve water and habitat quality at Loe Pool by improved management of nutrients from diffuse sources in the catchment and the improved management of effluent from Helston and RNAS Culdrose sewage treatment works.|
|GP08.18||Encourage the establishment and extension of Sessile Oak woodlands at inland and coastal valleys and around the Helford River and Loe Pool. Consider opportunities for small scale planting of local provenance native tree species such as Sessile Oak, Hazel and Alder to act as a future seed source for native woodland establishment where this is currently absent or sparse to assist subsequent appropriate natural regeneration.|
Support conservation and enhancement of the character of the open heathland plateau including reduction of visual impacts from existing conifer plantations on Goonhilly Downs consistent with best practice. Where possible this should be achieved by felling with restoration to open habitats balanced with equal or greater productive woodland creation using appropriate sites and species selected with regard to landscape character.
|GP08.20||Encourage appropriate productive
management of broadleaved woodlands for example
around the Helford estuary in a manner that is
consistent with conserving and enhancing local landscape character and biodiversity.
|GP08.21||Encourage the management of hedges
to allow elm and other hedge tree regeneration
or, where appropriate, planting of native or locally
naturalised tree species on hedges in order to restore landscape character following the impacts of elm disease including raising awareness that such local hedges were previously considerably more treed.
PDF of this chapter - which includes all photos, maps and images