The Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is made up of 12 separate geographical areas and covers approximately 27% of the County – an area of 958 sq km (370 sq miles). The AONB containing some of Britain’s finest coastal scenery, including Land’s End and the Lizard peninsula.
The north coast landscapes range from famous headlands, such as Tintagel and Pentire, to extensive rolling dunes and the spectacularly folded, Atlantic-lashed cliffs north of Boscastle which are some of the highest in Britain. The south coast has an altogether softer landscape of multi-coloured cliffs, tiny coves and picturesque fishing villages. It is indented by the sessile oak-fringed estuaries of the Fowey, Fal, and Helford Rivers.
There are many distinctive geological formations. The Lizard’s famous serpentine rock is found in the many reefs and spectacular stacks that emphasise the wild isolated character of the coastline. The granite intrusions around Land’s End have created rocks rich in minerals that have been mined for centuries and the old engine house chimneys still stand sentinel against the sky.
The AONB also contains the broad expanse of the Camel Estuary and inland, the high open sweep of Bodmin Moor, the heath plateau of the Lizard Peninsula, the quiet beauty of the Roseland and the historic moorland of Penwith.
Bodmin is the only extensive upland area in Cornwall and is dominated by granite outcrops with characteristic stone tors and clitter slopes, a wealth of mineral deposits and unusual river profiles.
The AONB protects many important natural and historic sites. The Lizard, with its complex geology, is a National Nature Reserve, and the Fal River is one of Europe’s best unspoilt examples of a drowned estuary complex and is a Special Area of Conservation. The traditional farmed landscape of small hedged and banked fields (many dating to mediaeval or even pre-historic times) is intrinsically part of the AONB’s value as are its ancient standing stones and the distinctive mining ruins (now a haven for wildlife). 80 per cent of the AONB is in agricultural use and, in favoured pockets, horticulture.
The AONB has no large settlements but includes villages such as Tintagel, Mevagissey, St Keverne and Polperro, now bustling holiday centres, and small towns like St Just and Fowey. Tourism is a vital part of the rural economy and the AONB is deeply valued by visitors and recognised as a key economic resource. The SW Coast Path National Trail follows the whole coastline.