Cornwall is a region covering England’s rugged southwestern corner. It forms a peninsula encompassing wild moorland and hundreds of sandy beaches, culminating in the southernmost tip of England at the Lizard Peninsula, and the most westerly tip at Land’s End. It’s an area defined by its spectacular coastline which tapers out into the Atlantic Ocean. A coastline which is dotted with picturesque villages, towering cliffs, golden beaches, and sparkling seas.
One of the UK’s most popular holiday destinations, Cornwall is also home to a rich cultural history, and some amazing wildlife. The rich waters off the coast support seals, common and bottlenose dolphins, minke whales, and basking sharks, as well as more exotic species such as blue sharks, sunfish, and bluefin tuna. Bird wise it is home to thousands of seabirds, including oystercatchers, guillemots, and shearwaters, and is one of the only places in the UK where you can see choughs!
Average rating: 3.0 (good)
Average cost: costs vary depending on your activities, where you eat and sleep, and how you travel about the area. You can hire a campervan for around $100 per night, with campsites costing around $30 per pitch. Activities vary in price, a boat trip can set you back between $40 to $120 depending on its length.
Best time to visit: spring and summer are the best months to make the most of the warm weather. This period is also the busiest for marine life. If you want to avoid the school holiday crowds, the shoulder months of May and September are a good option.
How to get there: there are several train stations which act as gateways to Cornwall, the most popular is Penzance. It takes around 5.5 hours to travel from London Paddington to Penzance although there is also a longer sleeper train. Driving and flying are also options. Once you are there you typically need a car if you want to travel along the coast. We hired a campervan and stopped off at campsites along the way. This is a fantastic way of experiencing this beautiful area.
Typical activities: bird watching, boat trip, campervanning, free diving, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkelling, surfing, walking
Number of reports: 2
Last update: 2022
WILDLIFE IN Cornwall
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the top ten most popular species that can be seen here are:
#1 Common dolphin – 0% OF wildside users (0/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The rich coastal waters off Cornwall are a fantastic place to see dolphins. Common dolphins are the most numerous species and you can spot them year-round, although the best time to see them is usually April to September. They are easily distinguished from other dolphins by their unusual colouring. Their backs are typically dark with white stomachs, and on each side, they have an hourglass pattern that is coloured light grey, yellow, or gold.
Common dolphins are very social animals and are normally found in groups that feed close to the shore. They love to jump out of the water and will happily approach boats to bowride. There are dolphin-watching tours that run from all of the major towns along the coast, and they all offer good opportunities to spot dolphins. We went with AK Wildlife Cruises in Falmouth which was excellent – although we were unlucky!
#2 bottlenose dolphin – 0% OF wildside users (0/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The other most common dolphin found off the Cornish coast is the bottlenose. These are larger than common dolphins and a more uniform grey colour. The best way to spot them is by boat. However, you can also spot dolphins from clifftops, harbours, and beaches as they feast on fish and play among the waves. There are a number of lookout points where you stand a good chance of seeing them from the shore. If you’re lucky, you may even spot the rarer Risso’s dolphin!
#3 Blue shark – 0% OF wildside users (0/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
From June to October, the South West of Cornwall attracts blue sharks which come to feed in the nutrient-rich waters. The sharks found around Cornwall usually measure around 2.5 metres, although can grow up to 3.5 metres long! They get their name from their beautiful blue metallic colouring which provides brilliant camouflage out in the open ocean.
Blue sharks are usually found over 10 miles offshore so if you want to see them you need to take a boat. There are a number of blue shark-based tours in the area – some of which allow you to snorkel with these amazing creatures! There is a level of risk associated with swimming with sharks so you want to make sure you are using a responsible operator. No one in the WildSide team has been on a blue shark tour in Cornwall but we have heard that Charles Hood tours are recommended.
#4 Basking shark – 0% OF wildside users (0/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Alongside blue sharks, the coast of Cornwall is visited by the second largest fish in the world – the basking shark. These ocean giants can grow up to 8 metres long, with mouths that can stretch up to a metre wide! Despite their enormous size and fierce appearance, they eat plankton and are harmless to humans. The best way to spot them is a boat tour, although they can be spotted from the coastal trails or by kayak. They migrate to the area from April to October, with numbers peaking in mid-May to July. Check out this useful guide for more tips.
#5 Sunfish – 0% OF wildside users (0/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The ocean sunfish or ‘mola mola’ is the world’s largest bony fish. They can reach over 3 metres long and 4 metres wide, and weigh over 2 tonnes. These slow-moving and fascinating creatures are occasional visitors to the Cornish coast and have been spotted off Falmouth, Port Gaverne, Port Isaac, Polzeath, St Agnes, Godrevy Point, Pendeen Watch, and Penzance. Look out when you’re on a wildlife cruise for a fin sticking out of the water as they bask in the sun at the surface. The best time to see them is in the warmer summer months between June and September. Check out this video by Padstow Sea Safaris.
#6 Bluefin Tuna – 100% OF wildside users (2/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
After being absent from Cornish waters for nearly a century, Atlantic bluefin tuna have started reappearing in the past decade and are now a frequent sight. Bluefin tuna are large fish, reaching up to 3 metres long. They can be seen leaping spectacularly out of the water, making them easy to mistake for dolphins. Look out for their upright tails which are different to the flatter tails of dolphins. During summer and autumn, they are easy to spot on wildlife cruises, or even from coastal lookouts such as the one at Lizard Point. Check out this video of a kayaker surrounded by a school of leaping tuna!
#7 Minke whale – 0% OF wildside users (0/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Minke whales are the smallest and most common of the baleen whales that visit the UK’s waters. While they may appear dolphin-like from a distance, they are much larger, growing up to 10m in length. In Cornwall, they have been recorded relatively regularly from St Ives around Land’s End to Fal Bay, and out to the Isles of Scilly. They are most likely to be seen breaching the water with their dorsal fin. Minke whales have sleek, dark grey bodies and sickle-shaped fins. Their blow is weak or invisible. Minke whales are generally spotted alone or in small feeding groups feasting on schools of fish or krill. The season for seeing them is April through to October. Check out this close encounter near St Michaels Mount.
#8 Chough – 50% OF wildside users (1/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The red-billed chough is on the Cornwall coat of arms alongside the miner and the fisherman, reflecting the bird’s importance in Cornish culture. In Cornish legend, it’s said that King Arthur transformed into a chough when he died with the red feet and beak representing his violent, bloody end. Once widespread, they declined to only a few pairs in Wales and Scotland. The last holdout in England was the Cornwall coast, where they hung on till the 1950s.
Thanks to ongoing conservation efforts and restoration of their habitat, breeding choughs returned to Cornwall in 2001, and there are now an estimated 100 birds living in the area. They can be found year-round along the coast. Choughs nest in nooks and crannies on cliff faces and in old mine workings and feed on short grasslands and heathland. They can often be seen flying acrobatically through the high winds which batter the cliffs. The Lizard Peninsula, Lands End, and Kynance Cove are all good spots to look out for these fantastic birds.
#9 Grey seal – 100% OF wildside users (2/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The UK is home to around 40% of the world’s Atlantic grey seals, and Cornwall is a hotspot. They can be seen along the coastline year-round. During high tide, they are most likely to be spotted swimming and bobbing around looking for food or playing. During low tide, it’ll be hard to miss them lounging and basking on the rocky shores. The best chance of seeing them is on one of the many wildlife-watching boat trips – which virtually guarantee sightings. Although you can often spot them sheltered in coves when walking along the coastal trails – the area around Godrevy beach is a great spot. For the best and most intimate encounters check out this snorkelling with seals trip. For anything else seal-related check out this resource.
#10 oystercatcher – 50% OF wildside users (1/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Oystercatchers are large black and white wading birds, with long red bills and pink legs. They breed along the coasts of the UK and have started to breed inland in the last 50 years. In coastal areas, you will likely see them searching for mussels and cockles to eat, while inland they mainly eat worms. Oystercatchers are a common sight along Cornwall’s long and spectacular coastline, with the main breeding site at Looe island. They don’t like disturbance so paddling quietly in a kayak is the best way to get close. Check out this nice guide to Cornwall’s oystercatchers.
In addition to the top ten, Cornwall is also home to a range of other species including: guillemot (50% of WildSide users reported sightings), great cormorant (100%), grey heron (50%), and collared dove (50%).
Photo Credit: Norrisskyia under a Creative Commons licence from Pixabay