NNR Events

Events to celebrate the expansion of the Lizard National Nature Reserve

Lizard Natural History

Below you can find general information about the natural world of The Lizard. Browse the icons above to discover detailed descriptions of individual species. Alternatively, if you know what you are looking for, then you can use the site search facility at the top of the page.

There are several words that crop up over and over again in any description of the natural beauty of the Lizard: contrasting, unique, complex, rare, special, diverse....

Browse through these pages and you'll begin to discover why these glowing terms are so deserved. Each of the links in the text below takes you to a page exploring different aspects of the natural Lizard in more detail, but here are a few tasters:

• The Lizard has a complex geology, with the southern half a mixture of metamorphic and igneous rocks, including the famous and beautiful serpentine rock that was once buried beneath the ocean floor. Kynance Cove is a great spot to see serpentine exposures. Find out more here: Lizard Geology

(taken from 'The Lizard Peninsula Classic Wildlife Site' by Andy Byfield in British Wildlife vol3 no2 pg92-95 – 1991 -whole article reproduced in Resources)


small erica vagans - cornish heathWhen the eminent Cambridge botanist, John Ray, recorded 'Juniper or Firre-leaved heath (Erica vagans), with many flowers. By the way-side going from HelstonLezard –point in Cornwal, plentifully' in 1667, he contributed the first botanical record for the Lizard Peninsula. On reaching Lizard Point, he added Autumn Squill (Scilla autumnalis), Fringed Rupturewort ( Herniaria ciliolata), and Wild Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis ssp prostratus), all growing abundantly, and the last two new to the British flora (Ray 1670).

The Lizard is renowned for being the warmest place in mainland Britain, with frosts and snow rarely experienced and little difference between the seasons; mild damp winters, and cool summers.

As I’m writing this in the middle of December, the temperature outside is a balmy 15C. Daffodils are in full bloom, the frogs are breeding, cherries are blossoming and trees are coming into bud. Whilst this peculiar weather isn’t particularly unusual on the Lizard, the rest of the UK seems to be experiencing the same. Weird weather indeed.

Globally, 2015 has been the warmest year on record, with temperatures over 1.5C higher than the long-term average. Whilst this has much to do with the El-Nino effect, it also reflects climate change predictions. Britain’s weather on the whole has been characterised by generally cool conditions, particularly during the height of summer which was decidedly cloudy, damp and cool.Lizard temperature chart

Graph from NOOA showing global temperatures; 1.5C above average.

(taken from `The Lizard Peninsula Classic Wildlife Site` by Andy Byfield in British Wildlife vol3 no2 pg92-95 – 1991 -whole article reproduced in Resources)

Travelling from north to south across the peninsula one is immediately struck by the flat treeless nature of much of the landscape. The flatness is testimony to the force of wave action when the whole landmass was under water, forming a wave-cut platform of Pliocene-Pleistocene age.

The northern section, comprising softer sedimentary rocks ( and termed `the Meneage`), has subsequently become eroded to form the gently rolling landscape crossed by numerous valleys that we see today. With relatively fertile, deep soils, the area is largely under dairy, arable or market garden crop production, except for areas of woodland on valley sides and marshy habitats in the valley bottoms.

In contrast, the southern half of the peninsula, comprising the harder igneous/metamorphic geology, and termed the `Lizard District`, has not succumbed to the same levels of post-marine erosion and weathering, and is thus to all intents and purposes flat. It rises to a high point of 113m, sloping very gently to the coast with its precipitous sea cliffs (rising to 60m), and steep sided cove valleys on the west coast and less steep cliffs on the sheltered east coast.

the lizard plateau kennack sands
pilots view kynance kynance

The rocks of the Lizard Peninsula form one of the most interesting suite of rocks in Britain. A Pre-Cambrian age (older than 600 million years) has been assigned to them, although their exact date is difficult to pin down. The southern half of the Peninsula comprises a complex array of metamorphic and igneous rocks including serpentinite, schist, gabbro and granite, which are faulted up against Devonian slates along a boundary running roughly between Mullion Island and Nare Point. The serpentinite rock represents the remnants of part of an ancient ocean floor into which the other igneous rocks were intruded. Due to movements of the plates of rock covering the Earth's surface, this whole complex was thrust up against continental rocks during the middle Devonian, resulting in the "welding" of the ocean floor rocks onto the continental landmass.

 

The coastal cliff exposures at Kynance Cove provide one of the best and most famous exposures of the Lizard serpentinite, and the complex array of igneous and metamorphic rocks that form it. The rocks at this site were instrumental in determining the geological history of the Lizard and provided important evidence suggesting that the rocks originally formed part of the ocean floor.

Sighted at Britain's Most Southerly Point, against a stunning backdrop, the Lizard Wildlife Watchpoint is a fantastic place to get closer to nature and see wild Cornish choughs, thousands of passing seabirds, Atlantic grey seals and other marine species including porpoise, dolphins and basking sharks. As well as a wealth of marine life, the Southerly tip of Britain also boasts one of the National Trust's wildlife-friendly farms. Tregullas Farm, sensitively farmed by National Trust tenants Rona and Neville Amiss, supports an abundance of farmland birds, wildflowers and other wildlife.


Lizard Watchpoint (National Trust)

By Peter Dudley, Historic Environment Service (Projects), Cornwall County Council

For many people the bleak looking downs and moors of the Lizard are iconic parts of its landscape. While they are known internationally for their biodiversity and as the home of the unique Cornish heath or Erica vagans, they are also important for archaeologists and landscape historians because of the wealth of archaeological remains they contain, and as they form part of Cornwall’s unique historic landscape character. Due to their wild appearance it is easy to imagine the downs and moors simply as natural landscapes, but their character has in part been formed, and maintained, by thousands of years of human activity, principally through the grazing of livestock.

Sometimes the term ‘rough ground’ is used to describe the moors and downs as they contain a mix of rough vegetation – coarse grassland, heather, heath species, furze (gorse), bracken and willow. Until the l9th century, upland, valley and coastal rough ground were important areas of west Cornwall’s farming landscape and used as part of the rural economy. Today, it is likely that few people are aware of the history of farmers taking sheep, cattle, ponies and goats on to the rough grazing, or of householders cutting furze (gorse), turf (peat), and ferns (bracken). Such sights were once commonplace on the Lizard.

    A Bronze Age barrow on Goonhilly. In the foreground is the rough vegetation of heath and coarse grassland, the barrow covered by a mix of heath and heather species (Photo © Cornwall County Council).

 

 Mullion Cove

 

One of the great things about being a geographer is that it is an inherently interdisciplinary subject. Being a geographer is like having a passport and living in an intellectual world where there are no visa restrictions: you can roam wherever you please. My particular geographical interests have been shaped by a lifelong interest in and love of English literature. In fact, my first degree combined the two.

Just recently I was asked by the poet Alyson Hallett (http://www.thestonelibrary.com/news.html) to write the introduction to a new collection of poetry inspired by and written on the Lizard with fellow poet Penelope Shuttle. It is called LZRD. As Alyson describes the collection, "just two women poets having adventures on the Lizard, and writing poems based on that - often in storms when the sea has been wild, just giving ourselves over to that jut of land".