Size: 40.2 hectares

% total area of SSSI's: 9.89%

Designated features: Heathland

General Description

At the most northern end of Bryher Shipman Head ridge runs south towards the plateau of Shipman Head Down. The shallow soils and the extreme maritime environment have led to the development of ‘waved’ maritime heathland, which is particularly important for some rare lichen species. Scattered amongst the dwarf Heather and Bell Heather are wildflower species including Tormentil, Common Bird’s-foot-Trefoil, Heath Bedstraw, English Stonecrop and Sheep’s-fescue. The rich lichen community includes species such as Lobaria pulmonaria, L. Scrobiculata and Sticta sylvatica, all species that are normally associated with ancient woodland and with species such as Usnea subscabrosa which is confined to this type of heathland in the UK. At the most southern end of the downs a large stand of European Gorse and more extensive areas of scrub, including Bracken, Bramble and Honeysuckle can be found in abundance.

Along the coastal edges of the Down and within the coves there are areas of species rich maritime grassland. Thrift, Buck’s-horn Plantain, Yorkshire Fog and Sorrel are the most common, along with a scattered population of Spring Squill. Of particular importance are the nationally rare Orange Bird’s-foot and the notable Hairy Bird’s-foot. Grassland lichen flora is also important with a good population of the nationally rare Heterodermia leucomela and other open grassland lichens including Heterodermia japonica, Cladonia firma, C. foliacea and C. rangiformis, with Golden Hair Lichen Telocschistes flavicans adorning the exposed granite tors.

Shipman Head is an important seabird colony with seven species of seabird breeding including; Herring Gull, Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Razorbill, Fulmar Shag and Manx Shearwater. In addition, occasionally Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher breed on the open heathland too.

Practical Management

A watching brief is the key to management on Shipman Head Down SSSI. The extreme environment is key in controlling vegetation height and development. We work with a local farmer, Graham Eggins from Hillside Farm, to manage the maritime grassland if needed, to ensure keeping an open sward necessary for lichen communities, with winter grazing being key. We also monitor for any encroachment of Bracken and European Gorse from the south, with control carried out when necessary. We also undertake annual seabird monitoring on Shipman Head, with a more in depth survey taking place every six years.

In the future the Trust would like to break up the large European Gorse stand at the southern end of the Downs. By creating firebreaks reduces the risk of fire spreading onto the heathland, as well as providing a varied age structure of vegetation and small areas with a distinct micro-climate which provides cover for invertebrates and essential feeding areas for birds such as Linnet, Stonechat and Meadow Pipits.