Explore Braunton - The Most Biodiverse Parish in England


Although it might look as though the landscape of the dunes is very permanent, it is in fact constantly changing. The dunes are always shifting and where a track might have formed through regular use in one season it could have completely disappeared by the next.

Scrub and Trees

Guided walkThe rapid growth of scrub and trees is a significant issue too, as without management it would continue to smother the internationally important flora that the Burrows are famous for. It has already dried the dunes to such an extent that the rare fen orchid has been made extinct and serious declines have been seen in other rare species such as water germander and petalwort.

Management Techniques

Management techniques since 1999 have therefore included excavation which, although it seems destructive, has created new wet slacks and enabled plants to re-colonise. Bushes and small trees are cut or removed and tall grass is mown to prevent plants such as thyme, lady’s bedstraw and orchids from becoming choked and lost.

Mowing grasslandAlthough management may seem to go against the principles of conservation, it should be remembered that it is the unique sand dunes and their rich variety that we wish to conserve – which sometimes means sacrificing invasive, non-native species of shrub and tree.

On 1 May 2008, the core area of Braunton Burrows Site of Special Scientific Interest (totalling 586 hectares / 1448 acres) entered into a Environmental Stewardship Scheme agreement with Natural England. The scheme will see grazing reintroduced in a phased manner over the next four years.  In order for grazing to take place, a number of grazing compartments need to be created.  Consideration has been given to public access requirements and a number of stiles and dog gates will be installed to ensure that people can move around the site with relative freedom.

A Little Inspiration

If you need a little inspiration, here’s Pete Goodwin with his ‘thoughts of a voluntary worker on Braunton’s biosphere reserve’:

“What does it mean to be a voluntary worker, what do I get out of it?  Well let me tell you. Apart from the satisfaction of helping with the management of Braunton Burrows and seeing the results of that help, it teaches me more and more about nature and the ecology of many plants and animals and their reliance on each other. My Dad was a keen ornithologist so I knew about birds from an early age but I spent eleven years working in a shop and then the majority of my working life as a carpenter in Hampshire.

Five years ago, I had a heart attack and part of my treatment was to lose excess weight and to exercise more. I took up walking at least five miles a day, and often walked to Braunton Burrows. I decided to study the wild flowers that I passed every day and to see if I could name them. I soon found this more difficult than I had imagined, even with a very good reference book.

Guided walk at concrete landing craft, used for training during WWIIThen I went on one of the walks organised by the warden, John Breeds and his wife Mary. I got to know them very well and Mary taught me the names of many of the 470 species of flowering plant on Braunton Burrows. I asked John if I could help in any way as I was now retired and had plenty of time to spare. So began my work as a volunteer, and my increasing knowledge of all things in nature. 

I now know about 450 flowering plants, every species of butterfly recorded on the Burrows and surrounding countryside, most of the seventeen species of dragonfly, practically all the bird species, and am currently learning lots of the over 800 species of macro moths. I help to lead guided walks from Braunton Countryside Centre alongside John and Mary. 

What do I get out of it?  A wonderful understanding of nature and all its beauty, and best of all the ability to pass on my knowledge to others, how wonderful.”

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