National Character Area 156

West Penwith - Analysis: Landscape Attributes & Opportunities

Analysis supporting Statements of Environmental Opportunity

The following analysis section focuses on the landscape attributes and opportunities for this NCA.

Further analysis on ecosytem services for this NCA is contained in the Analysis: Ecosytem Services section.

Landscape attributes

A complex and dramatic coastline of small headlands, with deeply incised steep-sided zawns on the north coast and sheltered woodland-clad valley

Justification for selection:

  • The coastline is dramatic in both appearance and diversity with the ‘zawns’ of St Just at one extreme, the valleys of Lamorna and some of the most rugged cliffs in the country at the other with Cape Cornwall and Land’s End pointing out into the Atlantic.
  • The coast is visually outstanding; 67 per cent is within the Cornwall AONB and is recognised as a Heritage Coast.
  • The coastal heathland and unimproved grasslands along the coast have provided ideal habitats for the re-establishment of a population of choughs.

An open, mainly treeless moorland ridge at the heart of the area, with extensive tracts of heather, blanket bog, mire, grass heath and bracken traditionally grazed by cattle.

Justification for selection:

  • Important deposits of peat supports blanket bog, heath and moorland habitats much with SSSI status. Many rough areas are comprised of priority habitats (including heath, blanket bog, purple moor grass and rush pasture).
  • The openness of the area enables long views across land and sea, and creates a sense of elevation, remoteness, freedom, and removal from modern clutter and bustle.
  • Cattle are increasingly a feature of the grazed heathland and coastal slopes, and local hardy breeds being favoured due to their ability to survive in this harsh environment.

A long history of human occupation is evident in the numerous heritage assets to be found across the landscape.

Justification for selection:

  • The story of human occupation is told by the many, and often protected, heritage assets to be found; prehistoric barrows, stone circles, hill-top enclosures, and early settlements linked by trackways flanked by Cornish hedges.
  • Nucleated settlements and the development of industrial communities associated with the mining heritage.
  • West Penwith contains part of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site, 240 scheduled monuments, a wealth of listed buildings, and historical remains showing human habitation since pre-Bronze Age.
  • The low level of human occupation has meant that there is also a high value ecological network present in the area consisting of pockets of rough land, unimproved grassland and coastal heathland linked by a dense network of hedges and sunken lanes.

A landscape of great tranquillity and calm with dark night skies, at the end of the country.

Justification for selection:

  • West Penwith’s location at the most southerly end of mainland Britain provides a deep sense of remoteness and belonging, often sought by many as an escape and inspiration.
  • Some 67 per cent of the area is classified as undisturbed in CPRE’s Intrusion Map, with the central heathland ridge, in particular, an area of great tranquillity.

An extensive network of public rights of way, open access and the South West Coast Path National Trail.

Justification for selection:

  • 64 km of the South West Coast Path runs around the edge of the area including the turning point for many on the 1,014 km journey from Minehead to Studland.

Landscape opportunities


  • Conserve the landscape’s local distinctiveness’ with exposed open moorland and a spectacular, coastline, ancient pasture fields, mixed agriculture and historic settlements.
  • Protect from damage and appropriately manage the area’s rich cultural heritage, most notably prehistoric and Romano-British remains, settlements, field systems, ritual monuments, hilltop enclosures and earthworks, and the significant industrial heritage linked to the area’s tin-mining history.
  • Protect the current settlement pattern of villages and small towns nestled in depressions and valleys and around sheltered coves.
  • Appropriately manage (through grazing, burning, scrub clearance) the open rough ground – re-linking remnant areas of heather moorland and maintaining the open character of the landscape. Further extend connectivity by the reversion of more intensively managed land, where appropriate.
  • Specific consideration is required to management works within the World Heritage Site to ensure biodiversity, landscape, culture and economic prosperity that the outstanding universal value of the site brings, can be realised in a sympathetic way.
  • Actively manage and expand areas of semi-natural, habitat including mires, bog and open moorland communities to establish a robust ecological network within the area that provides niches for the areas rare and threatened species.
  • Actively engage with local business and communities to sustainably develop the area’s tourist industry to maintain the existing high quality landscape and wildlife assets. Consider opportunities for developing techniques to enhance the understanding of the area through provision of both physical and virtual information.