The Towans are important for wildlife - one fifth of the plants that can be found in Cornwall live here, as well as a multitude of insects, beautiful butterflies and birds.
Deep-rooting marram grass traps the windblown sand, derived from shells and rich in calcium. Plants colonise the sand to create dune grassland, kept short by vital rabbit grazing. The grazing also helps to control brambles and other scrubby plants.
In late spring, pyramidal orchids and cowslips fill the dunes with colour, attracting insects such as the six-spot burnet moth, spurge bugs and the rare silver-studded blue butterfly.
If you are lucky, glow worms will light your way on warm summer evenings as the skylarks finish their daily singing and sand martins retreat to their cliff nest holes.The second largest dune system in Cornwall has a dynamic history. One of the oldest Cornish parish churches, St Gothian's Chapel, has been buried 3 times under the shifting sands.
As with much of Cornwall, the dunes are dotted with deep depressions where mine shafts were dug in search of metal ores.
All that remains of the once thriving National Explosives Company on Upton Towans is a fascinating mosaic of bunkers and tramways; one looming red brick chimney; and the local name of Dynamite Towans.
People and the Dunes
Marram grass is a remarkable plant, thriving in the most extreme conditions. There is only one thing it cannot tolerate - human feet.
In the past, uncontrolled trampling caused erosion on a huge scale and the need to protect and manage the Towans was recognised. In recent years, vast areas of exposed sand have been stabilised by planting marram and using fencing to trap sand. And you will often see ponies grazing as part of a scheme to control the spread of invasive species.
Today the Towans Partnership works together with local communities, landowners, councils, colleges and businesses to conserve the Towans, whilst allowing them to evolve naturally.
In Gwithian, village residents have been trained to survey butterflies, providing vital information to help in managing their local wildlife.
Land reclamation funds have been used to purchase Upton Towans, restore the old chimney and explosives buildings and make mine shafts in the dunes safe. Upton Towans is now managed by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust as a haven for people and wildlife.
The Towans Partnership works to preserve habitats across the whole dune system and ensure people can continue to enjoy this special place.