Wildlife

Life in the wild

One of the joys of walking along the Coast Path are the birds, plants and other wildlife you will encounter. 

Much of the land beside the Path has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and it passes through many nature reserves.

The majority of the Coast Path outside of towns and villages is managed as part of an agri-environment scheme, where landowners are given advice and grants from Natural England on how to look after the land for the benefit of wildlife, heritage and the landscape. This work is helping to ensure that the views from the Path remain world class.

A couple of examples of the successes of this approach have been the recovery of the chough in Cornwall and the cirl bunting in South Devon. Despite featuring on Cornwall’s coat of arms, choughs hadn’t bred in the south west for over 50 years, but careful management of the coastal slopes by grazing to recreate the short springy turf they like, led to them returning to the Lizard peninsula in 2001, and since then their numbers and range have steadily increased.

Due to changes in farming practices, by 1989 the population of cirl buntings, a once common farmland bird, had dropped to just 118 pairs and their range was limited to just a few pockets in South Devon. By working with farmers to ensure that these birds had nest sites and the shelter, the food sources they need throughout the year, numbers have now increased to over 860 pairs, and the changes in farming have also benefitted many other species.

The world’s fastest bird, the Peregrine falcon has also made a strong comeback along our coastline in recent decades. Now whenever you are on a section of Coast Path with nearby cliffs, you stand a good chance of seeing this awesome hunter in action.

Off shore, as well as sea birds, seals, dolphins and in early summer basking sharks are frequently seen, particularly from the headlands of west Cornwall.

The changing geology of the coast, means that the plants, and in summer butterflies, you’ll encounter as you make your way around the coast also change. On Exmoor you have heather moorlands, and ancient woods growing on the steep coastal slopes. In North Devon you encounter the first of the many estuaries you’ll cross, and one that is so special that it is been designated by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve.

Cornwall’s Atlantic facing coast is so battered by storms that relatively few trees grow, whereas the more sheltered south coast is home to sub-tropical species of plant.

The south coast of Devon is characterised by its sheltered estuaries, and here you’ll find National Nature Reserves at Slapton and Berry Head. In winter the Exe Estuary comes alive with tens of thousands of wintering birds. Heading further east you enter the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site whose wildlife highlights include the ‘wild’ woodland of the Undercliff National Nature Reserve, Portland Bill which is a great spot to see migrating birds, and the chalk downlands of Purbeck which have a rich diversity of flora and butterflies.

Wherever and whenever you walk parts of the Coast Path you are sure to see wildlife, but to help you discover our best wildlife ‘hotspots’ expanding the menu on the right will take you to short walks that we think are particularly good. Alternatively use the Walk Finder (the magnifying glass at the top of the page) to find a wildlife walk near you.