Penzance Wildlife


Lichens, moss and ivy growing on the granite tors at Penwith

Lichens, moss and ivy growing on the granite tors at Penwith

There are plenty of places where you can see the wildlife of Penwith if you take the time to stop and look.The rugged granite strewn moors host a variety of mosses, lichens, heathers and gorse, in turn supporting many insects, birds and mammals. There are several nature reserves too, including Marazion Marsh where many migrating birds spend their winter. Probably the best place though to look for wildlife is along the seashore and with the many beaches, coves and inlets that indent this coastline, a spot of rock pooling or beach combing will uncover a host of delights.

Heather and Gorse proliferate on the Penwith moorland

Heather and Gorse proliferate on the Penwith moorland







Here is just a small selection of wildlife that can be seen in West Penwith.

Marine megafauna

Atlantic grey seal
The only seal species regularly seen in Cornwall, these can be seen “bottling” in the water or resting on rocks.
Bottlenose dolphin
Groups of bottlenoses can frequently be spotted socialising or travelling very close to our shores. A large, sociable dolphin species.
Minke whale
Watch from exposed headlands in late summer and you may be lucky enough to see a long, sleek shape surfacing.
Harbour porpoise
Look for their rolling backs and triangular fins as they feed around headlands and in the Bay. Known as “piffers”!
Basking Shark
Cornwall’s gentle giants are plankton-feeders. Spotted in the summer, their huge fins and gigantic size make them an awe-inspiring sight.
Common Dolphin
Groups of these fast, acrobatic dolphins can number hundreds or even thousands! Look for the cream and yellow patterned flanks.
Blue Shark
It’s not only the gentle basking shark out there. Blues are one of several predatory shark species in offshore Cornish waters
Leatherback Turtle
The summer of 2012 saw record numbers of this enormous visitor. The largest reptile in the world, it feeds on jellyfish

Rockpool/harbour creatures

Beadlet Anemone
Waving its rusty red tentacles when in water, this anemone shuts itself tight when exposed. Found in rockpools in intertidal zones
Common Starfish
Found in rockpools and on beaches. Sports five tentacles (diameter about 30cm) which can grow back one is lost.
Velvet swimming crab
Velvety hairs on the shell and wide flattened pincers give Cornwall’s largest swimming crab its name. Live under stones in pools.
Cornish suckerfish
Found mainly on the lower shore where they cling to the underside of stones and rocks. Pinks, reds and blues make them very colourful.
Shore crab
These green crabs are the ones children catch when crabbing in the harbour. Remember to put them back in.
Take a trip on one of Penzance’s charter boats and this beautiful relative of the tuna is the fish you’ll be after!
Once so abundant that they could be spotted as vast, dark areas of sea. “Huers” alerted the fisherman they’d arrived. Now PGI protected as Cornish Sardines.


These beautiful seabirds diving in on fish are a real spectacle. Their great size, and dazzling white and yellow plumage identify them.
The smaller, coastal cormorant. Often seen “hanging their wings out to dry” or darting through the water fishing.
Herring Gull
Much maligned for their noisy scavenging habits, these handsome, intimidating gulls are actually in decline. Don’t feed them though!
Stocky little wader with colourful mottled plumage. Busily searches for food by turning over rocks, in bold, twittering groups.

Manx Shearwater
These black and white seabirds can be seen racing along close to the waves, tilting their wings from side to side.
Purple Sandpiper
A wading bird, very rare in the rest of England, but quite at home around Penzance harbour and nearby beaches.
Little Egret
These dainty little white herons first appeared on our south coast in 1989. Since then they have become increasingly common.

Other birds

Live secretively in the reedbeds at Marazion. Rare and difficult to see, you’re more likely to hear the males’ booming calls
Once vanished, now recovering, this famous red-beaked crow can be seen on our western cliftops. Listen for the “keeee-ow!” call.
Cetti’s warbler -this elusive warbler is one of Marazion Marsh’s stars. A loud burst of song belies its nondescript appearance.
Peregrine Falcon
The fastest creature on earth. Seeing this yellow legged bird of prey catch a pigeon above a cliff is a memorable sight.
You can hear flocks of whimbrel all around Mount’s Bay through the spring and summer. They sound like they’re chattering and laughing!
These large boldly coloured waders are very adaptable – usually found beaches or esturine habitats, they also feed on the Morrison’s roundabout!
Another bird of open moorland in the spring. Listen out for the males’ churring calls during a calm Penwith twilight.
Nothing sings “summer” more than the liquid, bubbling song of a skylark hovering on the breeze in a blue Cornish sky


Small Pearl-Bordered-Fritillary
This butterfly gets its name from the “pearls” that run along its rear wings. Can be found in the Porthgwarra valley.
Green Hairstreak
At rest, the underside of this pretty butterfly is a stunning shade of green. Another Porthgwarra valley resident.
Great Green Lush Cricket
Large, loud and bright green, this is the cricket you hear on summer nights on Penwith’s country roads.
Demoiselle Agrion Damselfly
A large and fabulously beautiful damselfly, this insect has an iridescent turquoise body and translucent dusky wings

Land mammals

Once very scarce, this large mustelid has now re-colonised just about every stream and river in West Cornwall.


Our only venomous snake is actually very shy. Careful on clifftops in summertime – they may be dozing in the sun.


Many of Penwith’s most ancient hedgerows contain hawthorn with its lacy white flowers in May and red berries in Autumn. Its distinctive silhouette leans with the prevailing wind.
This flame red flower of the late summer originated in South Africa, but now abundantly decorates Cornwall’s waysides and cliftops
Western gorse
A smaller squatter gorse than the Common Gorse, it flowers in the summer rather than spring, turning the heathland gold.
Handsome, stately, pink and incredibly abundant in May and June, foxgloves have lots of folklore attached to them.