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A bright and shifting future for the UK’s sand dunes

Logo: Dynamic Dunescapes

By Emma Brisdion

Many of us know and love sand dunes as beautiful coastal landscapes; idyllic backdrops to days spent on the beach or the perfect natural ridges between which to enjoy a sheltered picnic. But dunes are also important biodiversity hotspots. They are a sanctuary for rare species which are perfectly adapted to live in their shifting sands, like the northern dune tiger beetle, natterjack toad, sand lizard and fen orchid.

Baglan Burrows; one of the project’s dune sites in Wales. Image: Emma Brisdion
Baglan Burrows; one of the project’s dune sites in Wales. Image: Emma Brisdion

But sand dunes are listed as one of the most at-risk landscapes across Europe for biodiversity loss and these dune-adapted creatures are now at risk. Over time, many sand dunes have become covered by grass and scrub which have stabilised the majority of the sand, and invasive species have overtaken the habitats of native ones. Conservationists now know that a healthy dune environment needs areas of freely-moving sand, healthy sheltered dune slacks and areas with low vegetation to support its diverse wildlife.

Dynamic Dunescapes is an exciting and ambitious new project, restoring some of the most important sand dunes in England and Wales for the benefit of people, communities and wildlife. The project is using pioneering conservation techniques to rejuvenate dunes and make their shifting sands the perfect home for our native threatened wildlife again. From Cornwall to Cumbria, Dynamic Dunescapes will restore nine key dune areas, covering up to 7,000 hectares of beautiful coastal landscape.

Ponies in Cornwall graze the dunes and help to keep vegetation low and biodiverse. Image: Jon Cripps
Ponies in Cornwall graze the dunes and help to keep vegetation low and biodiverse. Image: Jon Cripps

At many sites removal of invasive species such as Rosa rugosa will be prioritised, and other works will also include the creation of notches and the removal of scrub to expose areas of bare sand, allowing more natural movement of sand throughout the dune system. We will also restore damp dune slacks and pools to support dune amphibians, and the introduction of grazers, such as cows and rabbits, into the habitat will help control vegetation growth and allow rare wildflowers to flourish once again.

During this time of Covid-19 lockdown, many of our on-site activities have been paused. There are a few instances in which project team members have been able to continue visiting their local dune sites – for example where staff are responsible for the welfare of animals. In Cornwall, Jon Cripps, Penhale Dune Ranger, has continued to check up on the ponies which graze on the dunes, even managing to coordinate a foot trim with a farrier, while remaining socially distanced. The ponies seem unfazed by the reduction in passing visitors too, as he has also spotted them taking naps in groups along the coast path!

A myriad of fascinating events in the dunes for the local communities, schools and visitors are being planned for when restrictions are lifted and it’s safe to do so. Sand dunes are far more than just a hurdle to pass on the way to the beach from the car park. Our events schedule invites people into the dunes to learn more about the environment and how to protect the wildlife that call it home.

With sweep netting, mini-beast hunting and pond-dipping in the dune slacks, there will be plenty to inspire exciting family days out and hands-on school trips. Dune rangers will shed light on the dunes’ incredible history, lifecycle and future conservation plans with guided walks along scenic walking trails. And, for keen coastal volunteers and budding environmental conservationists, fascinating opportunities to get involved in the restoration projects, help species monitoring programmes and support scientific research abound.

For more information about the project or any of the Dynamic Dunescapes project sites find the project on social media @dynamicdunes, and keep up to date with events and volunteering opportunities by visiting dynamicdunescapes.co.uk and signing up to our email newsletter. Natural England, Plantlife, National Trust, Natural Resources Wales, Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and Cumbria Wildlife Trust are working in partnership to deliver this ambitious and innovative project, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the EU LIFE Programme.

The project has just launched a new website, to act as a central hub sharing project information, present sand dune habitat and wildlife information to the public, share volunteering and research opportunities, and detail family and educational events. It also acts as a place for teachers and educators to access curriculum-aligned learning resources.

It has also been designed as a space for sand dune managers to update their knowledge of the latest sand dune conservation management messaging, and to connect with other site managers by requesting access to our closed forum for sand dune managers.

Logo: Dynamic Dubescapes partnership logo

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