A collaboration of coast and countryside organisations on The Lizard Peninsula

The locations of most of the Lizard's many rarities have been known for years, from early studies by the University of Bristol in the 1950's, through the mapping of the Lizard in the late '70's and early 1980's which formed the basis of the Lizard NNR as it exists today, on to contemporary research being carried out by staff and students from the Tremough campus at Falmouth. These studies have revealed the locations and requirements of many of the peninsula's notable plant species as well as the management techniques from which they most readily benefit. The heathland and coastal grassland habitats within which they dwell make up nearly all the acreage of the reserves and NT properties to be found here on the Lizard. Within these boundaries the beneficial management of these species has a high priority and most have responded favourably to years of grazing, scrub control and targeted interventions. However, plants are not great respecters of lines on maps and much of this habitat and the plants within can be found on numerous farms and small-holdings spread throughout the entirety of the Lizard.

 Botanist Ian Bennallick searches for possible rare plant locations

Over the years successive stewardship schemes have enabled many of these land owners to carry out – or have carried out – vital land management work that has been of benefit to these unique Lizard species. Stewardship schemes have enabled large scale scrub clearance work to take place to favour rare species, as well as the installation of infrastructure to enable grazing to be established. However, it does not provide a universal solution in all cases, especially with small sites or ones where only a limited intervention is required. Should there be an historical or actual record of a rare species present and once the land-owner's permission has been obtained it is possible that this site could be visited by the Combined Lizard Conservation Task Force – we realise that it's not as snappy a name as The A-Team but we're working on it. Over the last three years the team has cleared scrub from a number of sites, ensuring that rarities such as Autumn Squill (Scilla autumnalis) and Land Quillwort (Isoetes histrix) have the best conditions available to them to increase their numbers.

On a cold and increasingly cloudy day in late January the latest such visit began with a party of Natural England and National Trust staff and volunteers, together with two of Cornwall's most noted botanists, carrying an assortment of brushcutters and hand tools on a route march into Downas valley on the east coast of the Lizard. For those unfamiliar with its location, Downas lies between Kennack Sands and Black Head and can rightly be regarded as one of the more difficult to reach sites to be found on the peninsula. Whilst the southern half of the valley is being managed by the local farmer clearing scrub and enabling his cattle to access the valley to graze, the owner of the northern half is no longer in a position to do this and important rare plant locations are being lost. Once the most promising locations had been identified the staff and volunteers swarmed over the rocky outcrops like a party of ants – large ants with brushcutters and hand tools intent on clearing away the overlying vegetation.

 Members of work party start clearing vegetation  Examining work at the end of the day

The objective was to cut up the vegetation as finely as possible and wherever possible clear it from the area with a leaf blower, with the expectation that future winter gales will blow any remaining vegetation away. Though the day started with sunshine and finished in rain all those taking part felt a great deal of useful work had taken place. Whilst it is unlikely that the site will grazed in the immediate future there is a strong expectation that the cleared sites and linking tracks will provide an interesting and challenging alternative route, with rest spots on the way, for those walking this section of the coastal footpath. It is hoped that this trampling will contribute to keeping these sites open and pave the way for the return of the rare rushes and clovers that were once to be found here.

Published Feb2015
Author: Duncan Lyne – Reserve Warden, Lizard NNR.