On the north Devon coast, we are working at two large sand dune systems; Braunton Burrows and Woolacombe Dunes.
Beautiful Braunton Burrows is home to the second largest sand dune system in the UK and, as it’s an internationally important site for wildlife and sand dune habitats, the area is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and part of the North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Since the 1950s, the landscape here has become increasingly vegetated. Fast and widespread growth of shrubs and plants which stabilise the sand mean that lots of early successional dune stages – young, mobile dunes which have lots of bare sand – have been lost. As a result, many of the threatened species that live in these dunes have been rapidly declining – some have even become extinct from the area.
Our work here has involved working with MOD and creating new areas of bare sand. These will give bare sand-loving wildlife, like sand lizards and a huge variety of plants, places where they can thrive again. More sand is then available to move through the area and build up dune ridges. As we remove scrub that is taking over areas of the dunes, we’ll also be removing invasive plant species such as Japanese rose and sea buckthorn; these plants, which don’t usually grow at this site, can grow very quickly and outcompete native species which have always been a part of this landscape. We’re also restoring dune slacks; wy removing some of the fast-growing willow species, we can improve the slack pools which are essential for many of the dunes’ important amphibian species.
The Braunton Burrows dune system is also an important historic site, as the dunes were used for wartime training by the military as they prepared for D-Day. The remaining relics of the area’s history are protected and our conservation works will avoid these sites to uphold Braunton’s heritage.
Our project in Devon will help rejuvenate sand dune systems at Braunton Burrows and Woolacombe. Work in Devon is led by Plantlife and National Trust, working closely with Christie Estates and MOD.
Woolacombe itself is a seaside resort on the coast of North Devon, England, which lies at the mouth of a valley (or 'combe') in the parish of Mortehoe. Famous for its sandy, gently sloping beach stretching 3 miles (4.8 km) in length, Woolacombe forms part of the North Devon Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, designated in 1960.
The work on the sand dunes at Woolacombe includes removing and breaking up some of the dense scrub. To move away from using mechanical mowers, the North Devon Ruby Red cattle, known as ‘The Ladies’, break up the dense bramble on the dunes as they graze, creating a range of height and variety in the plant life. This will make the dunes a much healthier habitat in which insects and wildflowers can flourish again.
In an exciting initiative led by the National Trust, their grazing area is marked by cables buried in the dunes; when the cattle approach this border, the collars they wear sound an alarm to let them know not to go further. This means physical fences and turnstiles are not needed, allowing the rolling dunes to keep their natural character!
Wildlife you might see in Devon
Braunton Burrows is an important site for many plant species, including petalwort, the purple-flowering dune gentian, water germander and the nationally rare scrambled egg lichen which lives in areas of short vegetation.
The pretty amber sand-bowl snail can now be found in many of the wet dune slacks at Braunton Burrows thanks to previous conservation efforts, and are only found in one other place in the UK!
On sunny days you might see sand lizards sunbathing on the sand or bare ground on the foredunes of Braunton Burrows, and common lizards further back in the dune system.
North Devon's dunes are also home to a flurry of beautiful insects like the cinnamon bug, including myriad butterflies like the common blue, meadow brown and the small white.
Wildflowers such as blue viper's-bugloss, yellow ragwort, pink restharow and pink-green marsh heleborine can be seen adding splashes of colour in low grassland on Braunton Burrows.
Rabbits are present on Woolacombe and Braunton Burrows, and help to keep grassland vegetation in check.
Meet Your Friendly Face in Devon
People Engagement Officer, National Trust
I’ve always loved the coast and being by the sea, and I’m looking forward to spending more time in the dunes. I’m particularly fond of hanging around the dune slacks in Braunton burrows, surrounded by dragonflies. I’ve done a lot of work in outdoor education and engagement, and I’m keen to try and bring some of the exciting things you find there to life. I’m relishing the chance to get some school groups out, and encourage younger people to really start to engage with nature.
Videos from our Devon sites
You can get involved!
We are planning a whole host of events, guided walks, nature talks, citizen science projects, volunteering and training or work experience opportunities for the whole community to get involved in.
We’ll also be offering opportunities for local schools to explore the dunes and learn about the importance of sand dune habitats and species. We will regularly update our events page on this website, so remember to check back often to see what we’ve added to our exciting calendar!
Read some of our blogs about our work in Devon