Dune Revival; Photographing Works on Cornwall’s Dunes

Photography student Ellie Chidgey has been working with our team in Cornwall, photographing our conservation work and some of the beautiful species that can be found at Penhale Dunes.

I study Marine and Natural History Photography (MNHP) at Falmouth University, a course where the outdoors is my studio. It is a specialised course where I am able to explore the Cornish coastlines with underwater cameras and discover the unseen-wonders of the natural world with microscopy. I learn the basics of filmmaking and how to communicate scientific ideas and conservation stories through images. A very relevant course that’s raising my awareness of global issues, including habitat loss, climate change and plastic pollution.

As part of my conservation module, I was set the task to design and create a feature article for a magazine based on a local conservation story. Through lots of research and multiple emails to conservations groups I came across Dynamic Dunescapes, an ideal project whose local sites are near Perranporth and Hayle. Dynamic Dunescapes is a new 4-year project whose aim is the restoration and protection of biodiversity within the dunes. This project particularly caught my eye as prior to my research I did not know much about the sand dunes or that they were even at risk!

Penhale Dunes by Ellie Chidgey
Penhale Dunes, Ellie Chidgey

Taking up only 2% of the Cornish environment, sand dunes are incredibly important to the coastal ecosystem, harbouring a wide variety of specialised wildlife. The fragile environment is becoming suffocated with vegetation and is at high risk of losing much of its rare biodiversity. This daunting statement prompted me to find out more.

I set myself a challenge to find out as much about this project as I could; this included multiple site visits and talking to people involved in the project. I spent the day in Penhale Dunes near Perranporth and was amazed by the variety of invertebrates that inhabit the dunes. I learnt about a new species, the wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi) which mimics the colouration of a wasp to ward off predators. I captured a number of different species using my macro lens and a wide angled lens to capture the shapes of the dunes.

The photographs I took of the invertebrates were especially helpful in creating the story for my magazine article. I discovered a hidden world of numerous invertebrates that inhabit the dunes as their home. Many are exclusively specialised to this environment, meaning many of the invertebrates are only found in these dunes. A vital message why the dunes is so important and why the Dynamic Dunescapes project is critical for the survival of these rare habitats.

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I followed up my day in Perranporth with a further outing to Gwithian Green, which lies at the back of the Towans; another site working with the Dynamic Dunescapes project. I interviewed Andy Nelson, the Project’s Engagement Officer, who explained the background to the Towans project, which connects with a team of volunteers from the Friends of the Towans; a charity developed in recent years to enable the local community to become directly involved in the conservation, protection and management of the Towans.

Talking with the volunteers, I was able to appreciate first-hand, what they are doing to protect the dunes. Their aim is to develop a better, self-sustaining mobile dynamic dune system, creating a balanced habitat with more areas of bare sand and dune slacks (damp water-filled dips). These are essential parts of the sand dune ecosystem for many amphibians and reptiles who rely on this habitat to burrow and the shallow pools to breed and forage.

Ellie with Andy Nelson
Ellie with Andy Nelson
Friends of the Towans
Friends of the Towans

The screenshots below are from my finished magazine article, which I have presented as part for my degree course and is influenced by the Wild Cornwall magazine design. I created an 8-page spread covering the importance of the dunes, the invertebrates that live there and the work of The Friends of Towans. I thoroughly enjoyed my time working closely with Dynamic Dunescapes project team. I want to say a massive thank you to Andy Nelson and The Friends of the Towans volunteers, who allowed me to photograph the amazing work they are doing.

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About the Author

Ellie Chidgey

Marine and Natural History Photography (2nd year undergraduate) at Falmouth University. I am PADI scuba diver and love to dive off Pendennis Point at Falmouth with my camera.

Instagram: @elliechidgeyphotos