Habitats & Wildlife
Discover Scilly’s vibrant landscapes and enchanting wildlife
Scilly’s landscapes, which look and feel so different to the rest of England, are one of its greatest assets; the wildlife and habitats that flourish here make it a truly fascinating place to visit whatever the season.
The Isles of Scilly have been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) since 1975 and are the smallest AONB designation in the UK. Our AONB designation is unusual in that it covers the entire archipelago, including the uninhabited Islands and rocks, with some Islands being designated “scheduled landscapes” as a result of their rich, visible histories.
The Islands provide a wealth of contrasting and colour-rich landscapes, a large percentage of which are managed and maintained by the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, a locally run, independent charity. Hard, rugged pillars of granite in varying shades of greys and pinks; soft, springy, wind and sea blasted heathlands which emit a purple and yellow glow during the late summer months; small dense woodlands of mature elm trees which bathe you in green light as they rustle and sway; farmland fields protected by dry stone walls and Pittosporum hedges, planted with rows of scented narcissi which brighten the darkest winter mornings; and the tangible history of the islands which comes to life in the many archaeological sites.
These landscapes and marine environments, which have a number of designations in addition to being an AONB, can evoke a variety of emotions which are enhanced and heightened by the vast array of plant, animal, bird and marine life which you will invariably encounter during your stay.
Much of the wildlife on the islands is friendlier and as a consequence more visible than its mainland cousins; the thrushes and sparrows will not think twice about inviting themselves to lunch if you’re having a picnic and if you go on any number of boat excursions it is likely you will be watched by the many curious eyes of our Atlantic grey seals (who is watching who?), see puffins and maybe even dolphins.
We even have some residents which you’ll be hard pushed to find, let alone see, in other parts of the UK; the cutest of these most definitely being the Lesser white-toothed (or Scilly) Shrew, which can often be heard, if not seen, scuttling around the coastal paths or across the tops of beaches in search of yummy sandhoppers.
Another special Scilly resident is the Red barbed (or St Martin’s) ant; Scilly also boasts a number of rare plant species, including the Least and Lesser adders tongue ferns, Dwarf pansy and Orange birdsfoot.
There are no Rights of Way or Common Land in Scilly. All land is owned by either the Duchy of Cornwall or is freehold; consequently the majority of the footpaths permissive because they are a part of farmers' and small-holders' tenancies. This includes the majority of the foot and coastal paths on both the inhabited and uninhabited islands, which are a part of the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust’s tenancy with the Duchy of Cornwall. But don’t panic, you are welcome to use them!
The fact that the foot and coastal paths are permissive does not detract from any walking experience you may wish to indulge in (whether it’s a simple stroll or you’re on the hunt for a rare bird during the autumn or spring migration). If anything, it enhances your experience as the paths are well maintained and cut regularly by the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust Ranger Team, to ensure access is not restricted.