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New citizen science app will help restore UK sand dunes

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Logo: Dynamic Dunescapes

The Dynamic Dunescapes app makes it easier for volunteers to record data, and for site managers to build long-term environmental data sets across nationwide project

image of the front page of the dynamic dunes app
(Dynamic Dunes)

Environmental monitoring is an essential part of any conservation project. You want to know the health and distribution of the species you’re trying to support, and you need to know whether your actions are helping. The task of generating reliable long-term data sets, then, occupies one of the top spots on the to-do list.

But when that environmental monitoring takes place year-round at over 30 sites in England and Wales, from Cornwall to Cumbria, gathering this data doesn’t come without its challenges.

How do you ensure all the monitoring methods are standardised? Particularly in the coronavirus era when group sizes are limited, and surveying now must take the form of many small, socially-distanced volunteer citizen science sessions. At each survey site, how do you guarantee that volunteers set up transects at exactly the right position, time after time? With fixed point photography, how can you easily direct volunteers to the ‘fixed point’ post at which images need to be taken, without placing many signs over a large sand dune system? And after an often-long day recording observations, who collates the data at every site, from every volunteer, and creates a nationwide data set that can be analysed?

Activities page of the dynamic dunes app
(Dynamic Dunes)

For Dynamic Dunescapes, a large sand dune restoration project in England and Wales, the solution to these questions (and more) can now be downloaded to a smart phone. Coastal sand dunes are listed as the most threatened habitat in Europe in terms of biodiversity loss. In recent decades, these habitats which are healthiest when dynamic and contain areas of free-moving sand, have often become threatened by overstabilisation, invasive species and nutrient enrichment.

The new Dynamic Dunescapes app developed by UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology provides six activities for volunteers to monitor changes in dune systems - including their shape and size, vegetation and water table - over months and years.

It is free to download and connects sand dune ecologists and site managers with their volunteers and citizen scientists out in the field. It also connects the many regional sites in the project. Data can be recorded on a smartphone using the app whilst on the dunes and is added to a national digital database, creating a hub for all the project’s data, recorded on our many different patches of coast.

Far more than just a data entry tool, the app has been designed to support volunteers and citizen scientists. It contains detailed guides on how to complete a range of activities, from recording the changing profile of dune systems to mapping the different sand dune successional stages. Acting as a hand-held ID book, it also contains plant species identification guides to help when monitoring native and invasive species. Transect GPS coordinates are available to download for each sand dune system, to help volunteers find just the right spot for transect monitoring or where exactly to stand and to point the camera at fixed-point photography sites.

And of course, all of these features increase the reliability of data gathered, helping to paint a truer picture of what’s going on in these habitats, and supporting the work.

Dynamic Dunescapes is now calling on local teams and local volunteers to support the project in rolling the app in the field. There are many opportunities now for individuals and volunteer groups to connect with sand dune site managers and conservationists, to help establish more transects and data points for the app to use. Register to get involved, or download and explore the app here: https://dynamicdunescapes.co.uk/dunescapes-citizen-science-app/.

For more information about Dynamic Dunescapes 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.

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