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Diggers in the Dunes! Military training exercise will help sand dune restoration and boost biodiversity at Penhale Dunes, Cornwall - Dynamic Dunes

Silvery leaf cutter bee photographed at Penhale Dunes in June 2021. (Sally Luker, Budding Nature)
Silvery leaf cutter bee photographed at Penhale Dunes in June 2021. (Sally Luker, Budding Nature)

Working with Cornwall Wildlife Trust, this week The British Army will remove patches of scrub from overgrown areas of sand dunes on MOD land as part of a training exercise using JCB diggers, to give sand dune wildlife a much-needed boost.

The large dune system at Penhale is home to a wealth of native wildlife, from reptiles like common lizard and adder, to delicate orchids, the rare silver-studded blue butterfly – a favourite of nature-enthusiasts in Cornwall – and the silvery leafcutter bee, which only lives in sandy habitats. These species, like many other dune-specialists, do well in our coastal landscapes when there are plenty of areas of bare sand available for burrowing into or hunting on top of, and low grassland in which to hide or to produce flowers.

The problem that Penhale Dunes Special Area of Conservation (SAC) currently faces, much like many of the coastal dune systems in Europe, is that areas of bare sand or low grassland are becoming smaller and further apart. Fast-growing scrubby vegetation – encouraged by the loss of natural grazing, by climate change and by nitrogen increases caused by air pollution – is overtaking the landscape. As the bare sand and low grass habitat areas shrink, dune plants and animals are the first to suffer; coastal sand dunes are experiencing significant biodiversity loss.

As part of an upcoming machinery training programme, four 16-tonne military diggers will be used by the British Army’s 165 Port and Maritime Regiment to remove areas of overgrown scrub and expose bare sand on Penhale’s overgrown dunes.

These large excavators, often used to support major operations around the world, will be assigned a different mission; to support conservation a little closer to home.

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