Late Spring Wildlife Walk on Braunton Burrows

Walking group on Braunton Burrows

Did you know that Stinking Iris leaves smell like roast beef? Or that Eyebright was traditionally used as a natural treatment for eye infections? On our Late Spring Wildlife Walk on May 27th, our enthusiastic group was delighted to learn some weird and wonderful facts about the unusual plant life on Braunton Burrows.

Viper’s-bugloss, Bee Orchids, Sea Stock, and Houndstongue were all on display on this special guided walk. Led by knowledgeable naturalist Mary Breeds, the group set off into the otherworldly dunes in search of rare and interesting plants.

Delicate dune flowers

Dune Pansies growing on Braunton Burrows with walking group in the background
Dune Pansies on Braunton Burrows (Spring Walking Festival)

Braunton Burrows is home to many extraordinary plants, and in 2002 it became the core of the UK’s first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Late spring is a magical time of year to explore the dunes, with vibrant yellow and orange Bird’s-foot Trefoil flowers creeping over the ground. Bird’s-foot Trefoil is a foodplant for the caterpillars of the Common Blue butterfly, and we were lucky to see these butterflies darting around during our walk! But one flower in particular stole everyone’s hearts – the Sand Pansy, or Dune Pansy. These stunning little flowers were in full bloom across the dunes, resembling a beautiful watercolour painting. Mary pointed out the incredible variation in these perennial flowers; some had a tint of blue, others had striking purple dots!

Sand Pansy with purple dots

Wildlife spotting on the Burrows

We spotted an array of invertebrates during the walk, including a web filled with Lackey moth caterpillars in a willow tree; a Common Blue damselfly resting on vegetation; vibrant Poplar Leaf beetles, a Brown Argus butterfly, and a Nursery-web spider. Overhead, a Swift soared past the group, and Skylarks showed off their impressive vocal range.

Brown Argus butterfly
Brown Argus butterfly on Braunton Burrows (Spring Walking Festival)

Rare and unusual plants on Braunton Burrows

Braunton Burrows is an excellent place to spot a variety of wild orchids. Mary led the group to a small patch of spectacular Bee Orchids, hidden amongst the Marram grass. These stunning little orchids are one of 11 species growing on the Burrows. During the walk, we also spotted Early Marsh orchids, Southern Marsh orchids, and Common Twayblades.

Bee orchids with Marram grass
Bee orchids on Braunton Burrows (Spring Walking Festival)

A short walk from the Bee Orchids, the group stopped at a patch of Sea Stock – a rare and beautiful coastal plant that is scented (like traditional stock flowers) and attracts a variety of moths at night. Sea Spurge, which produces a milky sap that can be used to treat warts, was also found growing nearby. On the way back through the dunes, we were delighted to see an extremely rare plant, Sand Toadflax, which can’t be found anywhere else in Britain! Moments later, we spotted the scarce Brown-banded Carder bee on Viper’s-bugloss, which grows in abundance on the Burrows. What a wonderful way to end the walk!

Sand Toadflax plant
Rare Sand Toadflax on Braunton Burrows (Spring Walking Festival)

This inspiring guided walk through Braunton Burrows was part of our 2024 Spring Walking Festival, designed to showcase the area’s biodiversity and local history. Ellen from Barnstaple, who joined the Late Spring Wildlife Walk, said: “It was a very beautiful and dreamy walk. I learned so much about the plant life on the dunes and it was great to meet like-minded people. Mary has an incredible knowledge of plants. She was happy to answer all our questions and shared some amazing facts! It has changed the way I look at the Burrows.”

We hope everyone enjoyed the Spring Walking Festival and, if you missed out, don’t forget to check our Events Calendar for more guided walks.

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