Ecologists have rebranded parts of southern Cornwall as more continental than English in a pilot study of European land use, vegetation and climate.
Researchers made the links while comparing British and Spanish biogeographical classifications.
The work is a prelude to a £500,000 effort to devise common ways to describe European habitats and their relationship to biodiversity. This will help coordinate conservation schemes and climate-change monitoring, which are hampered by countries using subtly different systems.
To highlight the problem, the scientists found that according to Spanish classifications, a few square kilometres of Cornwall were a closer match to the terrain of northwest Spain than the rest of England.
Yet the distinctiveness of these "continental" enclaves did not show up when the UK's biogeographical categories were used.
Bob Bunce, a senior landscape ecologist at the Alterra Green World Research Institute in Wageningen, Holland, said that fringe areas of most countries were often at the extreme end of the range of national classifications. This could make them more likely to fit in categories designed to cover neighbouring regions.
Dr Bunce's study, carried out with colleagues at Oxford University, the Polytechnic University of Madrid, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Monks Wood and the British Trust for Ornithology, is published in the latest issue of the Journal of Environmental Management .
In November, Dr Bunce and scientists from 13 other research groups will start a three-year European Union project to find common ground between Europe's various national biogeographical systems and habitat descriptions.
Teresa Timms of the Cornwall Tourist Board was not surprised to learn of her county's Spanish connections. "Besides the mild climate, there are definitely cultural links between Cornwall and that very Celtic corner of Spain," she said, though she acknowledged there was a culinary gulf between pasties and tapas.