Dune Battle – tackling biodiversity in the dunes through gameplay

Jon Hale

When Biology Teacher Jon Hale tweeted at Dynamic Dunescapes, he had a vision for how useful co-creating a game could be for students studying sand dunes and succession.

There may not have been many silver linings from the global pandemic, but this is definitely one. I am truly grateful for the time and effort that Andy Nelson and Emma Brisdion invested into making Dune Battle a reality over what was a simple chat on Twitter as the nation plunged into lockdown and we started teaching from home.

Our school was delivering video lessons from the outset, but this is no replacement for fieldwork. We tried filming transects live battling the issues with wind, we tried taking photos of quadrats and analysing them at home in the reliability of broadband, but nothing comes close to actually studying ecosystems in situ.

Making the effort to try and deliver fieldwork experiences remotely did give us time to evaluate how we normally do it and the problems we face. Living in Jersey we are incredibly fortunate to have access to some amazing coastal ecosystems demonstrating textbook trends for zonation and succession, but students would struggle to obtain accurate data without considerable help from their teachers.

The issue is that each and every student is affected by Plant Blindness, or Plant Awareness Disparity as it should be known. They struggle to see the uniqueness of different plants, seeing a blanket of grass, rather than the sand sedges, marram, sea fern grass, early sand grass, I could go on. Every yellow plant becomes a dandelion and the appreciation of diversity is lost. Something had to be done.

Students sat around a table playing the dune battle card game in class.

Students playing Dune Battle, the category-based card game that teaches students about dune plant ID and adaptations

Enter Dune Battle. Slightly similar to a popular category based card game, players battle it out with some of the fifty or so plants that you can find in the sand dunes. Emma and Andy worked tirelessly to make these cards so aesthetically pleasing and factful that they bring me delight every time our students play. The cards were also used by the Geography department as a stimulus ahead of their coursework planning last year.

By playing Dune Battle for 10 minutes on a regular basis, students were subconsciously learning about the flora they find in the dunes, where they can find them, how big they are and some interesting facts about adaptations for survival that they possess. As a teacher, what made me truly grateful of Dune Battle was just how independent and diligent they were when collecting their data in the Autumn. Not only did they invest the time surveying their quadrats properly, but they were genuinely excited about seeing the plants that they had been playing with over the previous month.

An image of students surveying dunes right in front of the beach,

Students undertaking fieldwork, having learned about the species that they are surveying through playing Dune Battle

With such a remarkable impact on our students I was delighted to share the game at the Plant Blindness conference hosted by the British Ecological Society’s Teaching and Learning Special Interest Group last Spring. As you would expect, there was only positive feedback for the team at Dynamic Dunescapes!

Hopefully we will be able to develop the Animals Expansion set ahead of the holiday season! We hope to be able to link this together with the plant pack to show food webs as well as battling it out with apex predators.

Download Dune Battle

Are you interested in playing Dune Battle or using it in your classroom? Download a PDF here and be sure to print it double sided. The same rules as 'Top Trumps' apply.

Let us know how you get on! @dynamicdunes #dynamicdunes.

Alternatively, get in touch with us by email:

Read: Game-based learning as a primer for ecological surveys, by Jon Hale and Andy Nelson

Published in SSR in Depth, October 2022


Plant identification is a skill that takes years to hone and develop, yet it is important in understanding diversity in biology while in school. This is highlighted when studying ecological succession in A-level biology where students are often unable to notice the different species, which leads to the production of poor-quality data, potentially frustration and the development of misconceptions. Here we present a strategy to improve recognition of plant species ahead of fieldwork, using a simple card game called Dune Battle. This has been shown to improve the quality of data obtained independently by students, which reduces the demand on teachers to facilitate identification.

About the Author

Jon Hale
Head of Biology at Beaulieu Convent School

Jon has been teaching since 2007 and is the Head of Biology at Beaulieu Convent School in Jersey. He also represents school teachers on the British Ecological Society’s Teaching and Learning Special Interest Group’s committee. Twitter: @BeaulieuBio