Newborough Warren reserve
The expansive sand dune system at Newborough is considered biologically one of the richest in Britain.
This landscape was shaped over millennia by natural elements and by human conflict and commerce. After the Norman conquest of Wales in 1282, the native population of Llanfaes, near Beaumaris, was moved to “Newborough” (previously Rhosyr) to make way for King Edward I’s new castle. The resulting overpopulation, thousands of burrowing rabbits, intensive farming and harvesting of marram grass denuded the site of much of its vegetation. Then a great storm, in 1330, destabilised the now-fragile sand dunes. Hundreds of acres of farmland and many houses over the following centuries were buried under drifts of migrating sand.
Marram grass was valuable for weaving baskets, ropes and mats, which were used for bartering and sold at market. However, harvesting marram was prohibited by law for centuries following the storms, to stablise the dunes. The dunes aided the local economy again after marram weaving resumed in the 18th century. Rabbits, which made their warrens in the dunes, were caught in their thousands by local people for human consumption, until myxamatosis decimated Britain’s rabbits in the 1950s. From the outbreak of myxamatosis to this day, the dunes have been more stable, with loss of valuable bare sand habitats and partial afforestation.
King Edward I established a ferry between Newborough and Caernarfon. In 1664 the ferry had reached Newborough Warren but before the passengers were allowed off, there was an argument over the fare to be paid. Meanwhile the boat drifted back out and was capsized by the strong current. All but one of the 80 passengers drowned.
The open dunes are home to a wealth of specialist plants and animals. They include dune helleborine, an orchid found at only a few sand dune systems in southern Britain, and grass of Parnassus, not a grass but a beautiful ivory white flower. The marsh helleborine thrives in the dune slacks – enormous sandy hollows which are partly submerged in wet winters and covered in drifts of wild flowers in summer.
The dunes are home to many invertebrates. Butterflies include grayling and pearl bordered fritillary. Medicinal leeches and great crested newts inhabit permanent areas of water, alongside breeding and wintering wildfowl.
Newborough Warren is a National Nature Reserve, which also includes Ynys Llanddwyn, the tidal island at the north end of Llanddwyn beach. The river Cefni estuary and Traeth Melynog form the northern and southern boundaries respectively.
Other SHIPWRECK HiPoints in this region:
Ynys Llanddwyn - the island's lifeboat rescued 36 sailors from three wrecks in one week in 1852
Dinas Dinlle – ex-army amphibious vehicle wrecked as Caernarfon man tried to sail to Australia