New Dynamic Dunescapes project to save North Devon’s sand dunes

Cattle grazing the dunes in Woolacombe with collars linked to digital fences. Picture: National Trus

Cattle grazing the dunes in Woolacombe with collars linked to digital fences. Picture: National Trust - Credit: National Trust

Work is underway to restore under threat sand dunes at Braunton Burrows and Woolacombe.

Scrub clearance at Braunton Burrows. Picture: Wyndham

Scrub clearance at Braunton Burrows. Picture: Wyndham - Credit: Wyndham

It is part of Dynamic Dunescapes, a £10million conservation project in England and Wales to breathe new life into dunes to help them support their rare and specialised wildlife.

In North Devon the project will be working with Plantlife and The National Trust at Woolacombe and Christies Estates at Braunton.

The national project is an ambitious bid to restore 7,000 hectares of sand dune habitat.

The main threats dunes face are over stabilisation, with excessive scrub growth preventing the natural movement of sand and reducing the amount of bare sand available for the specialist species which rely on it, as well as the problem of invasive species.

Creation of bare sand by scraping scrub from Old Met dune slack, Picture: Rupert Hawley

Creation of bare sand by scraping scrub from Old Met dune slack, Picture: Rupert Hawley - Credit: Rupert Hawley

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Work in Braunton will create new areas of bare sand, giving sand lizards and a huge variety of plants places where they can thrive.

Scrub and invasive plant species such as Japanese rose and sea buckthorn will be removed.

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Removing some of the fast-growing willow species from the dune slacks – the damp depressions between dune ridges – will improve the slack pools which are essential for many amphibian species.

The work at Woolacombe also includes removing some of the dense scrub. To move away from mechanical mowers, the ruby red cattle, known as ‘The Ladies’, break up dense bramble on the dunes as they graze, creating a range of height and variety in the plant life. This allows insects and wildflowers to flourish.

In an exciting initiative led by the National Trust, their grazing area is marked by cables buried in the dunes; their collars sound an alarm as they approach the border, letting them know not to go further, removing the need for physical fences and turnstiles.

Bev Phillips is the Dynamic Dunescapes Devon engagement officer. She said: “The project is so different to any projects that I have been involved with in the past. It is vast, ambitious and focuses on one of the most depleted and undervalued habitats in Europe.

“I am already starting to unravel the deep history of Woolacombe dunes and Braunton Burrows and am learning about the mosaic of habitats needed for a healthy dune system. I am starting to face challenges regarding how people perceive and use the dunes and how access and litter are often a problem that I would like to help overcome.

“If I can play just a small part in improving dune systems here in North Devon as well as getting people as excited about them as me, then I will feel deeply satisfied.”

A statement from Christies Estates, which owns Braunton Burrows, said: “Christie Estates is looking forward to working with Dynamic Dunescapes on Braunton Burrows over the next three and a half years. At the core of the North Devon UNESCO biosphere reserve, Braunton Burrows is the biggest continuous area of sand dunes in England and contributes to Braunton’s status as one of the most bio-diverse parishes in the country.

“This project will complement the already existing careful management of Braunton Burrows by the Estate supported by Natural England.

“The work being carried out will have a long lasting and positive impact on the site, creating greater resilience and sustainability for its future.”

The project is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the EU LIFE Programme. Project partners are Natural England, Plantlife, National Trust, Natural Resources Wales, Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and Cumbria Wildlife Trust.

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