Marsland Mouth Nature Reserve

Marsland Mouth is a very large nature reserve on the northern border of Devon and Cornwall. Extending several kilometres inland from a dramatic coastline, this inspiring site offers something for everyone. It is an exceptionally diverse nature reserve consisting largely of a wooded, steep-sided valley, along with coastal heath and grassland, meadows, woodland glades, bracken-covered slopes and small streams and ponds. At certain times of year it is rich in wild flowers and the woodlands are alive with birds. The entire reserve was originally bought in small sections by Christopher Cadbury, largely in the 1960s. It was gifted to the Royal Society for Nature Conservation who managed the site until 1997 when it was taken on by the Devon Wildlife Trust (with assistance from the Cornwall Wildlife Trust) under a lease arrangement.

In the Marsland valley several footpaths lead through the reserve. From the parking area go through the gate and either turn left towards the coast or right to go down into the valley. Either route becomes a circular walk and there is a further footpath up the valley to Gooseham Mill and beyond. Visitors are asked to keep to the public rights of way. Access to the rest of the reserve is by permit only. Generally the terrain is quite rough, rocky and muddy.

The reserve itself is predominantly steep sided oak woodland with a mix of ash, holly, rowan, beech, hazel and sycamore. The wet flushes of the valley bottom contain alder and willow. Along the coastline the habitat changes to heathland and maritime grasslands. Rare species to look out for include the southern marsh orchid, wavy leaved St. John’s wort, marsh violet and bastard balm.

The reserve is home to a wide variety of animals, the rarest being the dormouse. The sunny slopes are butterfly havens, the whole site has recorded up to 34 species. It is also home to the largest population in Devon of the rare pearl-bordered fritillary. A great many dragonflies and damselflies can be seen on the site especially around their breeding grounds, the ponds and streams. Otters are frequent visitors and are well recorded every month. Bird life includes buzzards and green woodpeckers as well as coastal birds such as gannets and guillemots. Also spotted flycatchers and pied flycatchers are seen occasionally.

The woodland and grassland areas are under an active management regime which comprises mainly of coppicing, grazing, traditional haymaking and the cutting of rides and glades. Monitoring work is on going throughout the seasons and includes a common bird survey, butterfly and dragonfly surveys. For more information about the management for small pearl bordered fritillaries and pearl bordered fritillaries download issues of Grounded.

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