English Nature's information release on scrub clearance work on Braunton Burrows

Management work helps threatened wildlife (February 2006)

Management work funded by the Ministry of Defence, working in partnership with the landowners and English Nature, is helping rare plants and animals at Braunton Burrows.

Earth-moving equipment and mechanical scrub bashers are being used to remove rank vegetation and allow the unusual species a chance to reappear. 

James Diamond, English Nature Conservation Officer said “In the past this work has had exactly the results we had hoped for. These very rare plants and animals will often go unnoticed by many visitors but they are a very special part of the Burrows and their exceptional wildlife.” 

John Breeds, MoD Site Supervisor acknowledged that many visitors were concerned to see heavy machinery at work on the site, but said “Creating new areas of bare sand and removing scrub does look very drastic at the time, but previous monitoring has shown that it can soon bring fantastic results.”

Monitoring work has found that petalwort has increased from about 2500 plants in 1998 to over 22,000 in 2005. This puts Braunton Burrows in the top three populations for petalwort in England.

In one managed area, amber sand-bowl snail numbers increased from six dead individuals in 1998 to almost 5000 living or freshly dead individuals in 2004. In areas which had not been worked on, numbers had declined or remained stable.

Eight areas which formerly supported water germander have been worked on over the past five years. By 2004 populations of the plant had re-appeared at seven of these sites.


1. The natural beauty of Braunton Burrows has been safeguarded for several centuries under the careful ownership of the Christie family. The Christie Devon Estates Trust allows public enjoyment of the site, where this will not compromise nature conservation and military training objectives.

2. The Ministry of Defence occupies the southern two-thirds of the site under lease, for the purposes military training. The Commandant at Fremington Camp is responsible for day-to-day management of the training estate, with professional advice from the Defence Estates and its private sector partner, Landmarc Support Services. 

3. English Nature is the Government’s statutory advisor on nature conservation. It provides advice and support to managers of special wildlife sites, including Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC).

4. The exceptional wildlife and geological interest of Braunton Burrows is protected as a SSSI under national law and as a SAC under European legislation. They also form the core area of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. 

5. Petalwort is a tiny liverwort, found at only 17 sites in the UK. It receives special protection at both a UK and European level. Between the 1960’s and late 1990’s petalwort declined by at least 90% at Braunton Burrows. 

6. Water germander is a flowering plant found at just three sites in the UK. It declined by approximately 78% at Braunton Burrows between 1982 and the late 1990’s.

7. Amber sand-bowl snail is considered a rarity throughout Britain and Europe. Within the UK, away from Braunton Burrows it is known only from a handful of sites in Cumbria. 

For more information contact James Diamond on 01392 889771 or james.diamond@english-nature.org.uk