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Cornwall's wild coast

As we begin to head into spring and warmer times appear on the horizon, it’s a great time to get out along the Cornish coastline and spot wildlife. In the early months of the year, you often find you have some of the most beautiful parts of Cornwall all to yourself. This can make the sights and sounds of the abundant wildlife around you much easier to pick out.

The north coast with its crashing waves and wild coastline can be exhilarating in winter. Wrap up warm and get out with a warm flask and a pair of binoculars.

As a member of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, we asked Becky Payne, Content Marketing Officer at the trust to highlight the animals you can see on a trip to Cornwall. This is their pick of what you can discover.

Humpback whale tail

Photo by Brenda Tregunna

Scan the horizon

Winter is the time that humpback whales are most likely to visit our Cornish waters.

More and more individuals are being seen in UK seas every year and sightings have increased significantly in the last five years in Cornwall, with at least 30 sightings recorded so far in 2023/2024.

Reaching up to 18m long, these incredible animals are normally spotted alone or in pairs. It is believed they come into the shallow seas around Cornwall to feed.

Scanning is the best way to spot these incredible animals out at sea, either with or without binoculars. In ideal conditions the blow is the best sign to look out for, released as they exhale at the surface; in humpback whales the blow is bushy and around three meters high. Occasionally they are even seen coming into shallow in-shore waters at this time of year.

Common dolphin

Photo by Padstow Sealife Safaris

While you’re scanning, look out for common dolphin- often spotted in large groups, common porpoise – often spotted close to shore in shallow water and grey seals – all regularly spotted along this area of the north coast.

Search the skies

Between Newquay and Trevose Head keep your eyes to the skies - there is plenty of birdlife to be discovered. 

It’s impossible to visit Cornwall without noticing the Cornish chough images that cover everything from sign posts to car bumper stickers. These iconic birds went completely extinct in Cornwall during the mid-20th century. It wasn’t until 2001 that a small group of three birds arrived on the Lizard on Cornwall’s south coast and took up residence.


Photo by Adrian Langdon

Since then, conservationists have been working hard to protect these birds and give them the best chance to flourish in Cornwall again, and they can now be spotted along this area of coast. Part of the highly intelligent crow family, these birds are shiny black and easily identified by their red bills and legs. Look out for them along grazed clifftops, and listen for their “Chee-ow” sound.

Peregrine falcon on the cliffs in Cornwall

Photo by Steve Waterhouse

Also along this stretch, keep your eye out for diving peregrines – the fastest bird - and nomadic Fulmars, nesting in colonies on cliffs or flocking to feed out at sea.

Treasures below

If exploring the beaches is more your cup of tea, there are plenty of treasures to be discovered at ground level in the right places. Watergate Bay, Towan beach and Porth Beach in Newquay both have accessible and nice rockpools that are great places to search for some of Cornwall’s more mysterious and unusual wildlife.

Shore crab

Photo by Paul Naylor

Common species to look out for are the Beadlet anemone, Common prawn, Celtic sea slug and Limpets. Shore crabs, Shannys, Montagu’s blennys and Gem anemones can also be spotted with a bit of patience.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust

Cornwall Wildlife Trust work daily to create a Cornwall where nature thrives. We host the Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and encourage anyone to submit wildlife records of the sightings you encounter, whatever your experience and no matter how common or widespread the species. Your records will help improve our understanding of the natural history of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

If you would like to support our work, please donate to our Ocean Emergency Fund, which makes core marine projects possible so that we can look to the future with greater hope for Cornwall’s seas, funding a varied range of marine work.

Proud supporters

As our chosen charity partner, Cornwall Wildlife Trust was nominated by our team. We provide financial support and help spread awareness of conservation projects. Read more about our values on our impact pages


Boat tours and safaris

Sightseeing boat trips and wildlife safaris for 1-2 hours. Or, charter the boat for your own private group. Boat tours leave from Padstow harbour throughout the year. 

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Wavehunters boat trips

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