Report Jul 2004

 

BRAUNTON BURROWS BIOSPHERE REPORT - TTEF 5.7.04

 Management Issues

The final report assessing the effectiveness of the grazing trials between 1998-2003 is due at the end of this year.  There has, so far this year, been no summer grazing of the trial plots because the dry conditions have significantly slowed the growth of vegetation. The shortcomings of mowing as the sole method of management have been observed this year. After a long hot, dry period the flower rich turf soon became burnt as the short rooted herbs died from lack of rainfall - many orchids shrivelled before they could open, whereas in comparison the deep rooted scrub species: bramble, privet, hawthorn and willow were able to flourish, producing new growth.  Spring grazing could have topped the tender re-growth of this scrub as previous experience has shown - 3 years of heavy grazing with Soay sheep considerably reduced the invasive scrub species. 

The recent rain has restored some of the colourful flora with yellow drifts of Lady’s bedstraw, pink of Restharrow and purple patches of Thyme.

Rare Species

The status of several rare species continues to be regularly assessed.

Water Germander – appropriate management has now halted the decline of this very rare plant as the table below shows.  It is showing well this year and the first flowers were visible on 20/6, four days earlier than its previous record.

Total no of stems in:

2002

2003

02/03 increase

Excavated areas

86

210

+124

Grazed area

125

312

+187

Totals

211

522

+311

The populations of Round-headed Club-rush Scirpus holoschoenus, (which responds well to the winter mowing of smothering scrub), Sand Toadflax Linaria arenaria and Sea Stock Matthiola sinuata continue to be healthy.  White Horehound Marrubium vulgare has been rediscovered recently near Broadsands.

The first brood of the Small Blue butterfly Cupido minimus has not appeared this year.  Its food-plant Kidney Vetch Anthyllis vulnerariahas declined, perhaps due to it being a delicacy for rabbits.

Research and Monitoring

Water table monitoring continues and there is increasing concern over the future of wet slack communities as they become drier for longer periods of the year. A student from University College London is focussing her dissertation on the vegetation changes in these slacks as they become drier. English Nature is currently carrying out a site condition assessment of the main dune habitats.   Dr John Hope-Simpson from Bristol (aged 91 today!) is continuing with his long-term research started in 1948.

Regular counts of rabbit numbers, along a fixed 7.5km route, continue to show an increase although there is evidence of greater numbers recently dying from myxomatosis.

Year

1999

2000

2002

2001

2003

2004

Average over whole year

 

74

 

130.2

 

160.5

 

326.6

 

734

 

760

av. to June

Biosphere Events and Activities

A successful beach clean took place on May 23rd with 12 local volunteers collecting 2 large truck loads of sea-borne and other litter from the beach and fore-dunes. We were pleased with the co-operation we received from North Devon District Council regards the efficient collection of the bagged rubbish.

Repairs were carried out to the boardwalk by 7 volunteers on June 13th, this was organised by Dave Edgecombe of the NDCCS. Slide talks on the management and wildlife of the Burrows were given to a packed audience at Braunton Parish Hall on May 27th following Andy Byrom’s D Day presentation.

During the last 2 months 26 different groups representing a wide variety of local, national and international organisations have visited and been led around the dunes by Mary and myself. These have included ecologists from Denmark who manage extensive areas of dunes in N. Jutland, Dr John Ackeroyd and Hugh Synge who are producing an article on Braunton Burrows for their international magazine ‘Plant Talk’- they confirmed that much of the flat mown areas closely resemble machair, English Nature’s Coastal Action Group, N Devon Biodiversity Forum and the staff from Exmoor National Park. These visits enabled the exchange of valuable information and the gaining of fresh perspectives on the importance of the site and issues facing it.

An increasing number of national natural history and botanical groups have visited, discovering  new species plus some very rare hybrid willows.   A small colony of Wasp orchids, an uncommon and interesting variety of the Bee Orchid was found near Sandy Lane.

Interpretation

The high numbers of visitors have highlighted the urgent need for good quality interpretive boards at Sandy Lane, Broadsands and Saunton car parks. I hope to initiate and plan the creation of these this coming winter with the necessary support from MOD, English Nature and Christie Estates, in readiness for 2005 season.

 Braunton Countryside Centre is hosting Mary’s display on ‘Wildflowers of the Burrows’ and the series of illustrated talks which start this Wednesday evening at 7.45.

J M Breeds 5.7.04