A Trek Through Time

The dunes mainly comprise broken-down seashells which have been blown onshore. They are calcareous and support lime-loving plants rarely found in Cornwall, which is predominantly made up of acidic granite. It is the richest botanical site west of the River Fal, supporting a quarter of all the plant species ever recorded in Cornwall.

Many rare and scarce invertebrates occur here also, including one fifth of the UK’s most protected butterfly species, most notably the Silver-studded Blue (right), which occurs more abundantly here than virtually anywhere else in the country.

At the right place and the right time of year, and in sunny weather, you can stroll through the dunes with hundreds of these beautiful butterflies at your feet!.

Scarce and declining birds including Skylark, Linnet and Stonechat breed here, and the dunes provide home to reptiles also, in particular adders and common lizards – both protected species.


Viper’s bugloss (left) adds a striking blue splash to parts of the towans in July/August, especially around disturbed ground like rabbit burrows.

Virtually the whole towans area from Hayle River mouth to the Red River is designated as nationally important for wildlife – Gwithian to Mexico Towans Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Heading north from Godrevy car park, up around the headland and including Godrevy Warren, is another SSSI – Godrevy Head to St Agnes.

Two other important sites – Gwithian Green and St Gothian’s Sands – are designated as Local Nature Reserves (LNRs). All of these sites are also classified as County Wildlife Sites, a non-statutory designation given to habitats considered to be of at least county-importance for wildlife.

So, a trip here to visit the beach or walk your dog actually brings you into some of the most wildlife-rich habitat in the country.

Yet it’s not all about wildlife. The human history is fascinating and varied and today’s peace and quiet belies its previous life. From the late 1800s and early 1900s, areas were given over to the manufacture of dynamite. This was important during the First World War, with the area being known as ‘Dynamite Towans’.

The remains of blast banks, tracks and other structures can clearly be seen today.

Around Gwithian, tin streaming took place from early times, and larger-scale sand and gravel extraction took place until recent years.

Today, the Towans and their adjacent beaches are extremely popular destinations for visitors throughout the year for a wide range of activities from dog walking to kite surfing.

Many tourism-based businesses have developed here, making the area second only to Newquay in terms of the amount of accommodation available to holidaymakers in Cornwall.

map of the towans