Size: 16.31 hectares

% of total area of SSSI's: 4.01%

Designated features: Heather & geology

General Description

Along the southern edge of St Mary’s, Peninnis Head is a significant headland with prominent granite cliffs and tors, which are scattered amongst maritime heathland and grassland supporting a number of rare plant and lichen species.

Centrally, the site is dominated by wind-pruned ‘waved’ heath with small populations of Western Gorse, which is now being encroached upon by European Gorse, Bracken and Honeysuckle.  Along the coastal margins several areas of species-rich maritime grassland occur.  Plant species such as Thrift, Sorrel, Buck’s-horn Plaintain, Common Scurvygrass, Sea Carrot and Sea Mayweed are nestled within the coastal grasses of Red Fescue, Yorkshire-fog and the nationally rare Early Meadow-grass and the nationally scarce Western Clover.  The cliffs and tors are also covered in a rich and varied lichen flora which includes Ramalina siliquosa, Ramaline cuspidata and the nationally rare Rocella fuciformis, R. Physicopsis and Golden Hair Lichen Teloschistes flavicans.  The open grassland sward also has a varied lichen flora including good populations of Cladonia ramulosa, C. rangiformis and the nationally rare Ciliate-strapped Lichen Heterodermia leucomela.

Practical Management

The cessation of grazing in previous decades has led to the encroachment of European Gorse and Bracken across the SSSI and has resulted in the loss of a diverse maritime grassland sward. The site is now being grazed by our Ruby Red Devon cattle in the Spring and Autumn to reduce the dominance of coarse grasses and allow more wildflowers to flower, seed and germinate the following year, to help create more diversity. The grazing also creates small areas of bare ground which is favoured by lichens. Selective removal of European Gorse and Bracken control has begun on the western and eastern slopes of the SSSI to create a mosaic of scrub and grassland. Work has also started to reduce the main stand of European Gorse in the centre of the site which is encroaching onto the heathland; this will create a mosaic of heathland species and a varied age-structure of Gorse.