Journey to Dynamic Dunescapes: Tim Braund, Engagement Manager
So how did it come to this? Before I joined the Dynamic Dunescapes Project, my interaction with sand dune systems was probably like a lot of the UK population - in passing, scant with a vague recollection of something educational.
I knew they were there from long sunny days at the seaside to bracing, windswept walks in winter and have spent many happy hours walking through them to get to the beach and to see, for me, the expansive vistas and dramatic sunsets across the Bristol Channel. I’m lucky, I live in North Devon with the expansive and most spectacular Braunton Burrows on my doorstep and other dune systems of various sizes within striking distance of home.
Indeed, I am very lucky. I grew up exploring these places as part of my giant, extended playground. My fascination with all things natural was heightened by digging, sliding, hiding, watching, running, chasing, shouting, shivering, splashing, whispering as well as all the associated ‘collecting’ that small boys do. But my memories are not just from childhood, the rose-tinted ones coated in sugar and remembered in nostalgic sepia hues.
I have studied dunes (including A-level quadrat throwing competitions) and understood the basics of succession, species specialisms, pioneers, competition, invasives & aliens and stabilisation. What I learnt to be ecology, those sometimes delicate, fragile inter-connected systems sensitive to human activity, underpinned by my childhood cavorting, must have had an influence on my career choice. I’ve been involved in environmental management and encouraging people to ‘get outside to connect with and care for nature’ for (cough cough) years – it’s all I’ve ever done.
My earliest experience as a conservation volunteer was in the dunes laying a boardwalk; and this brought me in to contact with a real, professional conservationist bouncing along in a Land Rover but more impactfully, an expert, enthusiast and someone passionate about the dunes and so willing to share knowledge. This led to my first tentative steps on a career in conservation – the detail of which perhaps for another time.
I have visited dunes for exercise (both for myself and my dog when I had one) and for that sense of ‘wilderness’ – I think that is one of the underrated aspects of sand dune systems – they can feel both vast and intimidating and yet equally enfolding and intimate.
I have walked through dune systems in Wales and Cornwall to chase the wave and access the surf – the bit between the car park/campsite and the sea – not an inconvenience but natural processes and rare wildlife not necessarily top of the agenda.
What I had not appreciated was how rare, vulnerable and at risk these ‘unseen’ landscape gems are, the most at-risk habitat in Europe; over-stabilised and with reducing areas of bare and moving sand with associated losses in biodiversity and some species barely holding on as a result. The chance to be part of an ambitious large-scale project was too good an opportunity to miss.
So that’s how it came to this. A new challenge of no small proportion. To encourage a new approach to sand dune management amongst the conservation sector with innovative and potentially controversial management techniques. Techniques that local communities and users might take issue with. The very communities and users we need to get involved with their local sand dune systems, to monitor and look after the rare plants and animals that are found there; to secure a dynamic and biodiverse future.
I’m up for doing what I can to help – would you like to join us?
About the Author
Engagement Manager, Dynamic Dunescapes
Graduating with a degree in Environmental Studies, Tim spent three years in London and East Anglia working for the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (now TCV) before returning to the South West to work for Exmoor National Park for 30 years. An advocate of being active outdoors and connected to nature for physical and mental health and wellbeing, Tim is happiest when outside. Tim is the Engagement Manager for Dynamic Dunescapes.