The Lizard's National Nature Reserve grows

Hottentot fig at the Lizard

The Lizard peninsula in Cornwall is celebrating its new status as the largest National Nature Reserve in the South West.

An important extension of this wildlife treasure trove means that species like the rare wild asparagus and the marsh fritillary butterfly stand an even better chance of survival in the 21st century.  

Thanks to the recent addition of a piece of land roughly equivalent to 470 rugby pitches, the protected area now stretches from picturesque Mullion Cove in the west, across the atmospheric Goonhilly Downs to Lowland Point near Coverack in the east.

Boats moored in Mullion Harbour
Mullion Harbour boats
Boats moored in Mullion Harbour

Managed by Natural England, it includes great stretches of iconic National Trust coastline from Kynance Cove to Lizard Point and Black Head.

It’s all in the detail

Its vast size can only really be appreciated with a visit, but for conservationists like Area Ranger Rachel Holder, the real significance of such recognition is found right at the other end of the scale.   

'We spend a lot of time scrabbling around on our hands and knees searching for low growing rareties.

Not long ago, we had an exciting moment when one of us discovered a small patch of precious Pygmy Rush on Predannack Airfield.

Within seconds, we had all rushed over, fallen to the ground and were marvelling at this miniscule plant that most people wouldn’t even notice.

The fact that it was there at all proved to us the benefits of what we call ‘scraping’.

We use mini-diggers to take off the mat of unwanted vegetation right back to the clay. It might seem destructive to a passer-by but we’re aiming to emulate conditions that would once have been created by constant cart use.'

Small but tough

It is a strange truth that rare plants love tough conditions. They are happiest in thin outcrop soils with poor nutrients, or in ‘Mediterranean temporary ponds’ which, says Rachel ‘are effectively just puddles that sometimes dry out’.

These famous miniature pools are home to the tiny Pillwort Fern – so called because it is covered in little round blobs that look like pills. Who knew? But once you do, the Lizard’s puddles will never be merely puddles again.

9.6 square miles

With nearly two and a half thousand hectares (9.6 square miles) to look after, it is just as well this huge Natural Nature Reserve is under the careful stewardship of three conservations organisations:

  • National Trust
  • Cornwall Wildlife Trust
  • Natural England

Conservationists from any one of these can be spotted driving around in tractors, simply to keep the tracks and puddles down.

They keep their well-trained eyes constantly open because there are still some exceptional lichens and mosses growing on the Lizard that are yet to be found.   

The last discovery was in 1919 when a fern called Land Quillwort was uncovered by accident, after a botanist took home a clump of ordinary clovers. Methodically searching for it would have been like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Getting a closer look at wildlife near Lizard Point
Wildlife walk at Lizard Point
Getting a closer look at wildlife near Lizard Point

More recently, we have been celebrating the proliferation of Lizard Crystalwort, which was barely seen until a few years ago. That this minute natural jewel is back with a vengeance is a direct result of the thoughtful working practices of the tenant farmers whose land includes National Nature Reserve acres.