We like it wild around these parts. Truly, truly wild.
The west of Cornwall is the remotest part of the Cornish peninsula. A place of crashing waves, gorse-splashed moorlands and weird rocky outcrops. It’s also that little bit of England where nature takes on a legendary quality.
Think hulking basking sharks. Iconic Cornish choughs. Dolphins, gannets, porpoises, kittiwakes, whales, curlews, shags, seals…
Here’s six stunning spots to search for Cornwall wildlife. They’re all within a curlew’s call of Penzance, the vibrant port town that makes an ideal base for your journeys into the wild west.
Get some edge-of-the-world wildlife action at Land’s End
We need to start… at the end. It’s sometimes overlooked that Land’s End, with its family attractions and souvenir shops, is a gloriously wild location. Brutally high cliffs peer over churning seas that are home to dolphins and seals – even, occasionally, mink and killer whales. Twitchers are going to get extra twitchy at the site of gannets, shags, kittiwakes, fulmars and more. Bring your binoculars, though – the sea is way, waaay down those towering cliffs.
Search for the legendary sharks of Porthgwarra
For many, the area around Porthgwarra and nearby Gwennap Head near Land’s End is the holy grail of Cornwall wildlife. According to some sources, this is the best place in the county to see dolphins, porpoises, grey seals, whales, and… dramatic pause… basking sharks.
This legendary creature that just happens to be real is the big one. But its arrival depends on a few factors. You’ll see it only between April and September. The weather must be settled. And there must be good onshore supplies of plankton (basking sharks’ dish of the day, every day). Oh, my, but if you spot one…
Gaze on the migratory birds of Hayle Causeway and RSPB reserve
Where do birds go for their holidays? Hayle, of course. Up to 18,000 migrant and wintering waterfowl flock to the area of estuary, tidal pools and marsh around the town – especially during harsh weather, when it’s generally milder than other parts of the UK. In spring and autumn, see migrant wading birds, gulls and terns. In winter, spot huge flocks of teals and wigeons. In summer, catch an osprey (if you’re lucky). Star billing also goes to curlews (listen out for that beautiful, sobbing cry), little egrets, and oystercatchers.
Peer down (quietly) at the many seals of Mutton Cove
From the cliffs above Mutton Cove at Godrevy, just opposite the iconic lighthouse, you can gaze down at a colony of seals, lolloping, playing and rolling on the shoreline. This will be one of your most magical Cornwall wildlife sightings – it’s almost like peering down onto a secret world. And there is a very good chance you’ll see some seal action. In fact, often you’ll see well over 100 of these beautiful creatures.
Be quiet. This is their patch and they don’t like loud human voices.
If you’re down on the beach, look out for them popping up and eyeing you from the water too. They are endearingly curious.
Seek out the Cornish choughs of Cot Valley
Ahh, the Cornish chough. With its unique red bill and legs, this member of the crow family puts the mist in the eye of many a Cornish man and woman. In fact, we love it so much it sits atop the county’s coat of arms. The bird disappeared entirely from Cornwall in the 1970s. However, after an absence of around three decades, a small group arrived in 2001 and a pair nested and produced young. In 2021, 23 pairs of Cornish choughs successfully bred, raising 66 young. Cot Valley near St just has reported many sightings. What could be better than spotting this once-disappeared beauty amid the old mine workings of an enchanting valley?
Surf ‘with’ the dolphins of Sennen Cove
Some people will spend half a summer searching for dolphins. Sennen surfers, meanwhile, are riding waves alongside these marine mammals more often than you’d think credible. Yes, you heard that right. Surfing with dolphins. It sounds like a bucket-list must-have, doesn’t it? And while you shouldn’t actively approach them or try to swim with them (and they keep their own schedules, anyway) they do make regular appearances in this gorgeous cove. It really is one of the most breathtaking spots to see these aqua-bats leap from the waves.
Where and when to see various species in West Cornwall
- Seals: any time; various spots, including Mutton Cove where numbers are highest in winter
- Dolphins: any time, although sightings are common in summer; various spots
- Basking sharks: April to September; various spots – Porthgwarra and Gwennap Head are promising
- Birds: visit the Cornwall Wildlife Trust website for its bird species section – this is a rich resource of information, including when and where to see different species
Every one of these Cornwall wildlife locations is within 15 miles of Penzance, a vibrant port town in the West of the county. Why not make it your base for Cornwall wildlife excursions and enjoy the culture, food, nightlife and unforgettable places to stay.
Visit the LovePenzance website to find out more.