Report on the Core Area from April 3rd to July 17th 2006

Report on the Core Area from April 3rd to July 17th 2006


Metal boards, produced in conjunction with Christies, MoD and English Nature explaining the need for the habitat management works were erected in April, with 2 sited in Sandy Lane car park and one in Broadsands.


The rapid growth of scrub and trees is smothering the internationally renowned flora on some dune habitats.  In recent decades this growth has increased the drying out of the dune system causing the extinction of rare plants such as the fen orchid and a serious decline in others e.g. water germander and petalwort.

The work carried out may seem destructive but the excavated areas effectively recreate new wet slacks, thus providing the ideal conditions for these plants to recolonise.  This technique has been successful since 1999.

The cutting and removal of bushes and small trees along with the mowing of tall grass prevents the rich communities of plants such as thyme, lady’s bedstraw and orchids from becoming choked and lost.  Subsequently, seasonal grazing with sheep and cattle will be phased in over parts of the Burrows to control the regrowth and conserve the flora.

Please keep all dogs under close control throughout the bird nesting season and whilst the livestock are grazing.


60 cattle have been grazing the Flats on the east of the American Road since early July and are tackling the vigorous regrowth of scrub.


The wardening role here has now changed.  On July 1st Landmarc appointed a full time Training Area Supervisor with his remit solely concerned with military training.    EN and MOD are funding a post titled  ‘Braunton Burrows Education Warden’  I was invited to tender for this post and await the outcome.

Flora & Fauna

The growth of rank vegetation over unmanaged areas of Braunton Burrows is relentlessly building up and continues to threaten herb rich grassland.  Even on mown areas the regrowth is very vigorous this season, see photo showing bramble overwhelming flower rich turf.


Marsh orchids have occurred very locally this year with none showing in many previous sites and the few early specimens that appeared were very small - probably due to the cold and comparatively dry spring.  However, more recent periods of rain have revived the flora resulting in a few spectacular displays of marsh orchids - the best in a slack on Soay Plain, within an area that was grazed and mown last winter.  Six species of orchid were found flourishing here - a mass of southern and early marsh orchids with their purple and red heads, a sea of marsh helleborines and a scattering of bee, twayblade and pyramid orchids.  This location proved very popular on guided walks and delighted many visitors, see photo.

Orchid counts

Two species are counted annually: i. early purples near Hog Wood totalled 232 (231 last year) ii.  fragrant in Pebble Slack – 561 (202 last year) this years count is the highest known.

Insects  Butterfly numbers have been good with many dark-green fritillaries and marbled whites, more small heaths than usual but very few graylings. This years first brood of the common blue butterfly has been the largest I have ever seen, in the evenings scores congregated in warm hollows where they gathered to roost, heads down on grass stems. The caterpillars of the garden tiger moth, known as ‘woolly bears’ were widespread and in good numbers, the startlingly coloured adults are now appearing; this does not reflect the species decline over much of the country.  Over the new ponds dragonflies and damselflies were abundant, in particular the black-lined orthetrum dragonfly can be seen in unusually large numbers.

Ornithology  Ringed plovers have seldom nested successfully here – they seem unaware of the large tidal range and their nests have been washed out by rising tides.  Two pairs of ringed plovers nested above HWM on Crow point this April - one nest was destroyed by illegally parked vehicles, 4 chicks fledged from the other and 3 survived for several days - human activities on this popular recreational area probably resulted in their demise. There has been a noticeable decrease in stonechat numbers throughout the Burrows.

Rare Species

Sand toadflax, a fast growing ephemeral annual has produced some good displays, round-headed club-rush continues to thrive on managed areas. Sand lizards have been seen more frequently this year, since their introduction 4 years ago.  They have now bred and are extending their range through part of the foredunes with specimens here being larger than those seen on the Cornish sand dune sites.

Research and Monitoring

The recording of monthly rainfall and water table readings has continued.  The regular rabbit counts show that populations have remained fairly constant since their peak in 2004.  This spring I have restarted night time newt counts in some of the ponds, concentrating on the Great Crested newt: maximum count so far of 62. 


Undesirable Activities

Dogs   The request on the new management signs to control dogs has been ignored, fouling  is widespread well into the dune system and the practice of discarded bagged dog faeces continues.  The concentration of dog excreta around Sandy Lane car park is affecting the flora through enrichment as demonstrated by spreading patches of nettles.

 The illegal parking of vehicles on Crow Point continues.


Publicity  The Burrows has featured regularly in the local press which publicised our walks and featured an appreciative article by Stuart Beer.

Manned displays on B. B. were exhibited at the N. Devon College Biosphere Conference  April 26th/27th,  Instow in Bloom June 17th and at North Devon’s Biosphere Reserves Discovery day 8th June, where I gave a presentation on what makes the core area so special.   There are currently 4 display boards highlighting the flora and special qualities of the Burrows in Braunton Library where they will be displayed for 4 weeks.


I am involved in the new Braunton Parish Map project as the Burrows covers c30% of the total area of the Parish. 


Educational groups

We have taken a total of 32 different groups onto the Burrows since April 3rd.  This included 20 pre-planned groups: 3 A level fieldwork groups were assisted with their fieldwork, 3 natural history societies, 2 walks for the N Devon Walking Festival, U3A, Devon Assoc. of Smallholders, Winchester Trekkers, a sponsored Hospice and Coastguards walk, and 120 children from Braunton School on 3 separate ‘activity days’ with a re-enactment of how the dummy landing craft would have been used. North Somerset Drainage Board and Braunton Marsh Inspectors met at Braunton Countryside Centre for presentations on the Marsh and Burrows before their guided tours of these sites. Public guided walks – 12 have taken place since April 3rd  and were well supported with those on themes such as herbal plants and their medicinal uses and orchids proving popular, the latter attracting over 50 people on one evening. A walk from Saunton car park proved embarrassingly difficult due to an overwhelming blanket of scrub over much of the area resulting in a species poor flora - the lack of management clearly demonstrates a serious loss in diversity. 

World renowned botanist Sir Ghillian Prance, a retired Director of Kew gardens, visited June 14th and was extremely impressed with the flora he was shown.


Our programme of Biosphere events started with a beach and dune clean on May 7th , 35 volunteers including families with young children collected 2 large van loads of litter.  

A programme has been produced detailing 14 weekly evening talks on local environmental and historical topics to be held at the Braunton Countryside Centre, starting on July 19th.

    The Braunton branch of the  British Legion laid a wreath at  the   WWII   dummy  landing craft memorial  plaque  on   June  6ththis event featuredin  the local press.

J M Breeds