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Take time out to discover Cornwall’s unspoilt nature reserves

Cornwall's amazing range of natural habitats, from beaches and dunes to moorland heath, makes it home to a wide variety of birds, flowers and animals, including many rare or endangered species.
Cornwall Wildlife Trust is responsible for most of the 5000 acres (2000 hectares) of land in Cornwall that is dedicated to preserving the natural habitat. It owns or manages a total of 55 nature reserves and its aim is to conserve important natural features while controlling the threats of development, agriculture and deforestation.

Although there are some employed staff, the Trust relies on volunteer wardens and groups to provide the manpower needed to make these natural areas accessible to visitors. Look out for the informative nature trails, leaflets and signs that are provided to visitors to increase knowledge and awareness of each area.

Chun Downs Nature Reserve is on the north coast of the extreme West Cornwall peninsula, near Morvah. Although quite small, covering 22 hectares (54 acres), it protects 25% of Cornwall’s total heathland. In summer, it is a beautiful sight, covered in purple flowering cross-leafed heath, a type of heather. Look out for butterflies and seabirds during your visit.

Follow one of the many paths over the heath and visit Chun Castle, a prehistoric hill fort. Nearby are the remains of an ancient burial chamber – four upright stones topped with a massive capstone.

Hawles Wood is a different type of landscape. This ancient oak woodland near Wadebridge includes two streams and a quarry. It is home to the nuthatch, a small bird with a slate blue back and rust brown underside, which has a shrill whistle.

Tawny owls hunt in the woods at night, looking for insects, frogs and small birds. By day, they rest in tree holes. Another nocturnal creature you may see in early evening is the pipistrelle, the smallest bat species in Britain.

Colliford Reservoir is accessible to visitors staying in East Cornwall. This reservoir is high on the moors near Dozmary Pool and is ideal for hiking and watersports. If you are lucky, you may spot a lapwing circling overhead then diving at great speed to show off, particularly in the mating season. This green-backed bird has chestnut patches beneath the rump and can be seen wading around the lake.

Those staying near Looe and Polperro will be familiar with Looe Island, also known as St George ’s Island, just offshore. The island has woodland, grassland sand, scrub and shingle and its surrounding waters are a marine nature reserve. Until 2004, it was privately owned by two sisters but upon their deaths, it was bequeathed to the trust.

Access is on the Islander boat from Looe harbour. The crossing takes 20 minutes, weather permitting, and visitors have two hours to explore independently or with a nature warden. Wildlife includes a colony of grey seals and it is a breeding site for black-backed gulls.

For further information about Cornwall’s nature reserves, checkout the Cornwall Wildlife Trust website.

About Gillian Birch

Born in Cheshire, Gillian Birch moved to Cornwall at her earliest opportunity and never looked back. After 20 years, her ongoing discovery of popular attractions, quiet footpaths and local eateries has made her a fount of knowledge as she entertains readers with her informative articles on the hidden gems of Devon & Cornwall from a local point-of-view.

Find Gillian on Google+, and Twitter.

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