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Upton Towans Nature Reserve

This nature reserve near Hayle has internationally important dune grasslands which support a range of species inlcuding glow worm, pyrimidal orchid and sky lark. The sand dunes rise steeply from the beach and provide a wonderful vantage point to admire the stunning views across St Ives Bay.

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Location of Upton Towans nature reserve

Habitat type: Sand dune and grassland
Size of reserve: 97 hectares / 239 acres
OS map number: 102
Grid reference: SW 579 398 (extra parking at SW 581 407)
Best time to visit: All year

Snakes likelyArcheoligical InterestButterflies in seasonBirdwatching availableViewpoint on siteSite of Special Scientific InterestCounty Geoligical SiteArea of outstanding natural beautyCounty Wildlife SiteParking availableInformation BoardDisabled access
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Dune grassland wildlife appeal

A huge thank you to everyone who helped us raise £5,265 to protect the internationally important dune grassland at Upton Towans Nature Reserve near Hayle. We launched an appeal in 2011 to clear one acre of invasive species which are threatening important wildlife such as skylark, adders, wax-cap fungi and pyramidal orchid. Find out more...

The entrance to Upton Towans Nature Reserve is two miles northeast of Hayle, grid ref. SW 579 398. Take the B3301 north from Hayle towards Gwithian, go past the right hand turn signposted to Connor Downs then just after take the track on the left. At the top of the track there is some parking at the gate entrance, but it is limited so visitors can also park at the Gwithian Towans car park further on up the B3301 (grid ref SW 581 407) and walk over the dunes to the left to the nature reserve.

The South West Coast Path runs the length of The Towans and other paths cross the nature reserve, some of which may be suitable for wheelchair access. Off these paths, the surface can be potholed and uneven, and some grassed slopes will be slippery even in the dry. The area is dotted with mine shafts.

Pyramidal orchid, photo by Michael WallCharacteristic wildlife of this reserve
The pyramidal orchid has very distinctive, bright rosy purple flowers arranged in a dense pyramid, with narrow, unspotted leaves at the base of the plant and sheathing leaves up the stem. The plant's flower is ideally adapted to the proboscis of butterflies and moths carrying abundant nectar in its long spur. This orchid needs a calcareous substrate and so is only found on dunes and coastal blown sand in Cornwall.

The glow worm is not a worm at all, but a beetle of up to 25 mm long, and its 'glow' is caused by a chemical reaction. Only the wingless, larvae-like females glow to attract the males, which fly in search of a mate. Glow worm larvae are carnivorous and prey on small snails, tracing them by the slime trails, paralysing and sucking them empty.

Despite a decline in numbers during the 20th Century, the silver-studded blue butterfly lives here. Named for its silver mark within the spots on the underneath of the hindwing, this butterfly makes a marvellous sight in flight. The female is brown but, like the male has a distinctive spot on the hindwing.

Other information
The ruins of the National Explosives Works are highly visible here. Established in 1888, the last explosive made here was for naval use during the First World War. There is still evidence of a network of single-line rails leading from the dynamite factory to individual sand 'bunkers' where the explosives were kept.