Behind the expanse of Saunton Sands in North Devon are the dunes of Braunton Burrows. I have fond memories of a school visit to the burrows to study succession. I cannot believe its so close to my home but I haven’t been back for such a long time.
Succession happens when bare sand is colonised by plants. As you move inland the dunes are older and the number of species increases. The ground cover stabilises the sand allowing soil to form. The oldest inland dunes are gradually covered by shrubs and woodland.
The habitats nearest to the beach are very harsh. Facing the sea, plants such as Sea Rocket have to be strong enough to deal with salt water, spray, wind and moving sandy ground.
The first windswept lines of dunes are dominated by marram grass. Its dense tufts and roots hold on to the sand allowing the dunes to build up.
Stabilised by the grass the dunes can support colonies of flowering plants.
Sea holly is well adapted to growing in sand. It has deep roots that reach down a metre and the plant easily handles being covered in sand.
The dunes have long been used by the military. Following preparations for the Normandy landings Sea Buckthorn was planted to stabilise the damaged dunes.
Its berries are a favourite with birds. Stonechats also use the scrub as a vantage point.
Unfortunately the sea buckthorn is a non-native invasive species that is spreading across the reserve crowding out the smaller plants.
Flowers and Butterflies
Walking around the dunes one of the most common flowers is the evening primrose. It is hard to miss its tall spikes topped with bright yellow flowers.
One of the prettiest is common centaury.
Ragwort has also spread across the dunes and was popular with the meadow brown butterflies.
Many of the ragwort flowers were covered in the caterpillars of the cinnabar moth.
The marbled white butterflies preferred to keep low to the ground – escaping the winds.
Wind is to be expected on the exposed coastline and many flowers such common restharrow hug the ground. As they spread across the sand they do their bit to stabilise the sand.
Every now and again there were collections of snail shells. Not sure why.
Today cattle graze the dunes to hold back the encroachment of scrub and keep the habitat open for the hundreds of flowers species that grow here.
We returned to our guest house for the night. We did not expect such as beautiful sunset across the River Torridge.