Conservation of the Lizard heathlands

Conservation grazing ponies on the Lizard

The Lizard heathlands provide a vital habitat for many important species including native heather. Our rangers work alongside several other organisations to maintain this extraordinary place.

The Lizard heathlands are home to over 250 species of national or international importance and much of the Lizard is protected by Special Areas of Conservation and Sites of Special Scientific Interest designations. The heathlands cover much of the Lizard National Nature Reserve's 2400 hectares and include prime habitats. Find out more about the recent extension to the NNR here.

The extraordinary flora found on the heathlands is attributed to the mild climate and the rocks on which they grow. The geology is unique to the area; over 400 million years ago there was a great eruption and the result was the series of multicoloured rock layers you can see on the Lizard. These rocks consist most famously of serpentine but schists, gabbro and gneiss are also present and all have an influence on what can grow above them.

There are four native species of heather that grow on the Lizard, these are ling, bell heather, cross-leaved heath and the nationally rare Cornish heath which is associated with the magnesium-rich serpentine rocks on which it grows in abundance.

Our rangers here on the Lizard work alongside Natural England and the Wildlife Trust as well as local landowners and farmers, part of this work involves maintaining the heathlands by seasonal conservation grazing and controlled burning. It's important work conserving and promoting the unique wildlife of the heaths and grasslands, and approximately 80% of the Lizard National Nature Reserve is now managed by conservation grazing.

The rangers and volunteer teams burning scrub on The Lizard
Burning the scrub on the Lizard
The rangers and volunteer teams burning scrub on The Lizard

We own a small herd of Exmoor Ponies, and work with local farmers who use Red Devon and Dexter cattle; depending on the time of year you may see them out at Kynance or on the cliffs near Predannack. These smaller species of grazing animals are ideal for this type of work, not only are they incredibly hardy but they are small hoofed which is ideal on the craggier cliff areas. These grazing cattle and ponies have been used to restore grassland and heathland habitats. This scheme has been so successful it's been attributed to the return of the Cornish Chough to the area. It's been said that if the cattle have spent the day grazing a particular area it's likely that you'll be able to see Chough in that same area in the following days.

A Red Devon hard at work conservation grazing on The Lizard
Conservation grazing on the Lizard
A Red Devon hard at work conservation grazing on The Lizard

There isn't a best time of year to visit the cliff top heathlands and grasslands, you can come in winter and experience the harsh Atlantic's influence or in the spring and summer when the flowers are blooming. Spring sees the orchids and violets come out while July sees the heather and gorse begin to flower which is accompanied by the strong smell of coconuts. For more information about places to visit on The Lizard click here.