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Exploring nature at Golden Cap

Golden Cap Estate
Views from the Golden Cap Estate | © Lisa Wilcock

From the woodlands at Langdon Hill to far-reaching views of the Jurassic Coast at Thorncombe Beacon and Golden Cap, the landscape here is full of variety. Golden Cap is also a haven for wildlife, from rare orchids to dragonflies.

Jurassic Coast

The coastline of the Golden Cap estate is part of the Jurassic Coast, Britain's only natural World Heritage Site. The Jurassic Coast covers 95 glorious miles that record 185 million years of the earth's history. On a calm day old 'boulder arcs' can be seen stretching out under the water beneath Golden Cap. These are the remnants of old landslides, and they show how the cliff line has retreated over thousands of years.

Wildlife highlights on the Golden Cap estate

A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

Much of the ecology of the estate is of national importance and most is classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Ponds are attractive to dragonflies, the hay meadows are rich in wildflowers and some of the woodland is ancient and rich in lichens. The orchards at Filcombe Farm and St Gabriel's are important biodiversity sites.

Here's an overview of the wildlife you might spot on your visit:

Birdwatching

Bring your binoculars to catch a closer glimpse of these winged wonders:

  • Buzzards and kestrels scanning the hedgerows for prey.
  • Peregrine falcons – the fastest birds in the world – on the clifftops.
  • Stonechats – whose song sounds like two pebbles being banged together – in the heathland.
  • Ravens, blue tits and long-tailed tits (in the late winter months).
  • Dartford warblers, now rarely seen – do report your sightings to rangers.

Butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies

The grassland on Stonebarrow Hill is home to many species of butterfly including the common blue, marbled white and small copper. In spring and summer, watch for red admirals and peacocks hovering around the wildflowers in the hedgerows. The emperor, Britain's largest dragonfly, is a striking blue, green and silver. It patrols the ponds and streams on the estate in summer.

Fungi

Throughout autumn, some unusual shapes and sizes of fungi appear in the woodland at Langdon Hill. Elsewhere, the fields and meadows can play host to fungi such as scarlet wax cap, the statuesque parasol, fairy ring champignon and the common field mushroom.

Grazing animals

You’re likely to come across cows, sheep and ponies as you explore the estate. Grazing keeps the turf short and prevents scrub from taking over. You might see playful lambs in the fields, even in winter, as some Dorset breeds can lamb all year round.

View from the Golden Cap, Dorset, of the coastline stretching away into the distance, with sheep grazing in the foreground and stormy clouds
Sheep grazing with Golden Cap in the distance | © National Trust Images/Mike Williams

Nocturnal nature

On a night-time nature walk, you might see:

  • Moths including the buff tip and the poplar hawk.
  • Bats including the common pipistrelle, the soprano pipistrelle, the serotine and the lesser horseshoe bat, reside here.
  • Newts hunting for slugs and insects in the ponds and streams.

Reptiles

Several areas of heathland on the estate support a variety of native British reptiles, including the adder, grass snake, slow-worm and common lizard. Newt species, including the tiny palmate, live in the natural ponds.

Wildflowers

The estate is awash with wildflowers in the spring and summer. Highlights include carpets of bluebells at Stonebarrow, St Gabriel’s Wood and Langdon Hill, and rare flowers in the hay meadows, including the green-winged orchid and the corky-fruited water dropwort. The hedgerows are a tantalising tangle of foxgloves, red and white campion, herb Robert and common vetch.

Keep back from cliff edges

Thrift and sea campion cling to the cliff edges, but these should be admired at a safe distance.

Woodland views at Golden Cap, Dorset
Woodland views at Golden Cap, Dorset | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Record your wildlife sightings at Golden Cap

In partnership with the Biological Records Centre at Wallingford, and also the National Biodiversity Network, you can help us bt record the plants and animals you see on the Golden Cap estate. We’re particularly keen to update our records of birds on the estate.

You can help by noting:

  • What you saw.
  • Where you spotted it.
  • The date of the sighting.
  • Who saw the plant or animal.

How to use iRecord for wildlife sightings

You’ll need to register to use iRecord, a very user-friendly piece of software. Please use your actual name, not a pen name, as a local volunteer verifies the records. To locate your wildlife sighting, it asks for a grid reference. You can adjust the square on the background map or provide the grid reference using a map or GS meter.

If you have a list of things you’ve seen, please use the first option. If it’s just a single sighting, use the second option. It would be very helpful if you can also provide a photograph. Explore the website and you’ll find the same form for the Burton Bradstock coastal site – another area rich in wildlife – so you can start recording what you see there, too.

A view of the coastline from the summit of Golden Cap, Dorset, at Dawn

Discover more at Golden Cap

Find out how to get to Golden Cap, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

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