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Special Areas of Conservation

Penhale Dunes

Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Country England
Unitary Authority Cornwall and Isles of Scilly
Centroid* SW769572
Latitude 50.3717
Longitude -5.1378
SAC EU Code UK0012559
Status Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Area (ha) 621.95
* This is the approximate central point of the SAC. In the case of large, linear or composite sites, this may not represent the location where a feature occurs within the SAC.
Location of Penhale Dunes SAC

General site character

  • Coastal sand dunes, Sand beaches, Machair (80%)
  • Shingle, Sea cliffs, Islets (3%)
  • Inland water bodies (Standing water, Running water) (2%)
  • Bogs, Marshes, Water fringed vegetation, Fens (5%)
  • Heath, Scrub, Maquis and Garrigue, Phygrana (5%)
  • Dry grassland, Steppes (3%)
  • Mixed woodland (2%)

Download the Standard Data Form for this site as submitted to Europe (PDF <100kb)

Note When undertaking an appropriate assessment of impacts at a site, all features of European importance (both primary and non-primary) need to be considered.

Annex I habitats that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • Penhale Dunes, like Braunton Burrows, is in south-west England and also has a large area of fixed dunes with herbaceous vegetation on an extensive and exposed calcareous dune system where active geomorphological and successional processes occur. However, of particular interest are the communities developing on sand overlying the adjacent hillsides, which has been blown inland by strong winds. In this respect the site is functionally similar to Invernaver, on the north coast of Scotland, though the vegetation is very different owing to climatic differences.

  • Penhale Dunes in south-west England is an extensive and exposed calcareous dune system where active geomorphological and successional dune processes occur. Humid dune slacks with an interesting flora are well-developed in the northern section where they often form marshy areas or pools. The drier slacks support short, rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus-grazed turf with species such as silverweed Potentilla anserina, common centaury Centaurium erythraea and pyramidal orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis. The damper slacks are colonised by taller herbs including meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria, water mint Mentha aquatica, great willowherb Epilobium hirsutum and water horsetail Equisetum palustre. The dune slacks also support a number of uncommon plant species including populations of the Annex II species 1441 shore dock Rumex rupestris for which the site is also selected. Other low-lying wetlands within the site are important for sedge and fern-dominated communities.

Annex I habitats present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for selection of this site

Annex II species that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • 1395 Petalwort Petalophyllum ralfsii

    Penhale’s extensive dune system supports a large population of petalwort Petalophyllum ralfsii and is one of three sites selected to represent the species in south-west England. Recorded here since 1919, it occurs in damp, calcareous dune slacks.

  • 1441 Shore dock Rumex rupestris

    Penhale Dunes is an important sand-dune site for shore dock Rumex rupestris, with possibly the largest concentration of plants on the UK mainland. More than 50 plants were recorded at this site in the late 1980s; in 1994 the number had apparently declined to 33 fruiting plants but, following the discovery in the late 1990s of new plants away from the previously-known colonies, the total population is now thought to comprise >70 plants.

  • 1654 Early gentian Gentianella anglica

    This site supports strong populations of Gentianella anglica. Populations of G. anglica in Cornwall are now viewed as mixed populations of G. anglica ssp. anglica and its ‘hybrid’ with autumn gentian Gentianella amarella, G. x davidiana (Rich et al. 1997). They were formerly regarded as a subspecies, G. anglica ssp. cornubiensis (Pritchard 1959). Plants at Penhale Dunes have been found to range from pure G. anglica through a range of intermediate forms to pure G. amarella (Wilson 1999).

Annex II species present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

  • Not Applicable

Many designated sites are on private land: the listing of a site in these pages does not imply any right of public access.