Explore Braunton - The Most Biodiverse Parish in England


The wide range of habitats is attractive to many mammals and in the past all sorts of fauna have been recorded – foxes, hedgehogs, moles, weasels, wild mink, shrews, voles and field mice. Probably the most famous resident however is the rabbit, which give Braunton Burrows its name.


Surprising as it may sound; rabbits have not always been indigenous to the British Isles but were introduced in Norman times as a source of meat. They were imported from warmer countries where they had no need to live underground and so early keepers of warrens had to dig their burrows for them, to provide shelter from the colder climate.

Footprints at Braunton Burrows, 2007As time passed they learnt to dig for themselves and escaped into the countryside, breeding as only rabbits can to become widespread in no time at all. Of course their habit of chewing young trees, eating commercial crops and undermining land by digging caused them to be seen as a pest to many and as a result the disease Myxomatosis was purposefully introduced in 1954 and went on to kill a vast amount of the population.

This was not good news for Braunton Burrows though. The rabbits had long been invaluable because of their ability to keep the grassland close-cropped and as their numbers declined the scrub began to encroach more and more. Nowadays, hundreds of rabbits make the Burrows their home but are aided on parts of the Burrows by cattle and, occasionally, sheep. A regular watch is kept over the rabbit population, with organised rabbit-counts taking place at night.


Dark green fritillary butterflyAs mentioned before, an array of butterflies have been counted and moths are in plentiful supply on the Burrows too – these can be seen on summer evening moth-trapping walks.

Adders and grass snakes can be found among the dunes, although more often their tracks will be seen in the sand while they have slipped silently out of sight.

Male sand lizardNewts, frogs and toads, common lizards and more rare sand lizards have been spotted and a variety of insect life thrives in the dunes – including green tiger beetles, great green bushcricket, poplar leaf beetles, broad-bodied chaser and broad-bodied darter dragonflies.

The calcium-rich sand provides excellent shell building material and many varieties of snail can be found – you might spot a great quantity of snail shells in the dunes.


StonechatThe snails and insects in turn provide an attractive habitat for birds. Where the scrub, which would otherwise suppress the flowers, is allowed to grow resident birds such as robin, blackbird, dunnock, song thrush and wren can be found year round. In the spring and summer they are joined by good numbers of migrants such as chiffchaff, willow warbler, blackcap and common and lesser whitethroat. The highlight during May is to listen for the call of the Cuckoo - sadly a declining species but just a few still visit the Burrows.  

SkylarkWhere the vegetation is low there are typical ground nesting birds, such as meadow pipit and skylark. Pairs of stonechat occupy territories across the dunes. Disturbance, particularly from dogs, can be a problem and has contributed to a decline in the number of breeding species.

Shelduck still fly over looking for suitable rabbit burrow nest sites in spring, but attempts at breeding are rarely successful. The rabbits attract common buzzards and kestrel can be seen hovering in search of prey. When the flying ants emerge in summer black-headed gulls can be seen feasting over the dunes, sometimes in their thousands.

The man-made fresh water ponds provide a drink and a source of insects for birds, attracting swallows, house martins and swifts. Water birds are more likely to be seen on the estuary, or along the shore, including the strandline which is particularly important for providing seeds and insects for finches and small waders.

explore braunton, the most biodiverse parish in england - a north devon aonb project