Geography of Cornwall

Geography of Cornwall

The geography of Cornwall describes the area of a peninsula in the south-west of Great Britain west of the River Tamar. The population of Cornwall is greater in the west of the county than the east due to Bodmin Moor's location. It is the only county in England bordered by only one other county, Devon, and is the 9th largest county by area, encompassing 3,563 km² (1,376 mi²). Cornwall is exposed to the full force of the prevailing south-westerly winds that blow in from the Atlantic Ocean. To the north is the Celtic Sea, and to the south the English Channel.

Cornwall is the location of Great Britain's most southerly point, The Lizard, and the southern mainland's most westerly point, Land's End.

Physical geography

Cornwall is located at coord|50.3|N|4.9|W|type:country. The highest point is Brown Willy at 420 m (1,378 ft), part of the granite Bodmin Moor, of which such intrusions are covered by rough grass, heather and bog flora. Woodland is prevented from growing on the granite uplands because of the poor soil and the height giving them the full force of the wind and climate. The rest of the inland contains pastureland and arable farmland. The coastline, at 697 km (422 mi) [ [ Cornwall County Council - Profile of the Cornish Landscape] ] , is mostly occupied by high cliffs, but also featuring islets, stacks, coves and bays. Lowland stretches are also to be found, particularly along the south coast, sometimes backed by large expanses of towans or dunes such as near Par.

Cornwall has varied habitats including terrestrial and marine ecosystems. One of the lower plant forms in decline locally is the Reindeer lichen, which has been made a priority for protection under the national UK Biodiversity Action Plan.


Cornwall was one of the most important mining areas in Europe until the 20th Century, due to its granite intruding into surrounding sedimentary rocks resulting in metamorphism and mineralisation. Bodmin Moor and Carn Brea are examples of such granite intrusion. The geology of the Lizard peninsula is unusual, as it is Britain's only example of an ophiolite.

The north coast is more exposed to the prevailing winds from the Atlantic Ocean than the south coast and is more rugged, with sheer cliffs and steep valleys. The south coast is more sheltered and consists of rias providing deep water harbours such as Carrick Roads.

Political geography

Cornwall consists of six districts, which are, from west to east: Penwith, Kerrier, Carrick, Restormel, North Cornwall, and Caradon. While traditionally administered as part of Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly are now a separate unitary authority.


Cornwall's climate is milder than the rest of the country as a result of its southerly latitude and the influence of the Gulf Stream, however its proximity to the sea also makes Cornwall's weather relatively changeable. The moist, mild air coming from the south west brings higher amounts of rainfall than eastern Great Britain, however not as much as more northern areas of the west coast. Winters are mild, and frost or snow are uncommon apart from in the central upland areas. The average annual temperature for most of Cornwall is 9.8 to 12 degrees Celsius (49.6 to 53.6 °F), with slightly lower temperatures at higher altitude. [Met Office, 2000. [ average temperature for the United Kingdom] .] Most of Cornwall enjoys over 1541 hours of sunshine per year. [Met Office, 2000. [ average sunshine for the United Kingdom] .] Pendennis Point in Falmouth is the warmest place on mainland Great Britain, with an average temperature of 11.4°C (52.5°F). [cite book
last = Ash
first = Russell
authorlink = Russell Ash
title = The Top 10 of Everything 2007
publisher = Hamlyn
year = 2006
isbn = 978-0- 600-61532-3

The Gulf Stream, bringing warm air from the Caribbean north-east toward Europe, makes Cornwall's weather a lot milder than other places in the world at the same latitude, such as Newfoundland. Also due to the Gulf Stream, Cornwall has the UK's only area of sub-tropical climate, at the extreme south-west of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Palm trees are a common sight in these areas. The sub-tropical nature has resulted in a number of botanical gardens, such as Trebah and the Lost Gardens of Heligan.

Land use

Natural resources include: granite, slate, tin, copper and kaolinite.

* Agricultural land: 73.64%
* Woodland cover: 7.5%

Natural hazards

Cornwall is not known for being prone to natural hazards, although they do happen. The county experiences droughts and heatwaves with the rest of Europe as they happen, but its location close to the ocean dampens their severity. Also, European Windstorms in the winter usually make landfall on the west coast of Europe, including Cornwall, resulting in severe gales and flooding. Cornwall's large amount of valleys also make it prone to rapid flooding when an unusually heavy amount of rainfall occurs, as seen in the Boscastle flood of 2004.

Although not lying on any faultline, Britain occasionally experiences intraplate tremors as a result of the tectonic plate moving and creating weak points in the rock. The west coast is more prone to these tremors than the east. [ [ Earthquake shakes south west England - BBC News] ] The strongest tremor so far recorded in Cornwall was in 1815, measuring 4.4 on the Richter scale with its epicentre near Penzance. [ [ Earthquakes in the South West - South West Observatory] ]

Cornwall's location next to a large body of water, the Atlantic Ocean, makes it vulnerable to tidal waves. The 1755 Earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal which measured 9.0 on the Richter scale sent a tidal wave towards the south coast of Cornwall. Historical accounts describe waves of 10 feet in height and significant loss of life and property. [ [ First of November, the Earthquake day - Oliver Wendell Holmes] ]

ee also

*Flora and fauna of Cornwall
*Geology of Cornwall
*List of Special Areas of Conservation in Cornwall


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