New: Sand Dune Education Resources for Teachers and Educators
Dynamic Dunescapes release new education resources for teachers and educators exploring the natural dynamics of sand dunes and understanding how to manage them for nature
Sand dunes offer an untapped learning resource for both students and educators alike. Learning outside the classroom has been demonstrated to enhance attainment and outcomes for pupils, increased satisfaction for teaching staff, and is generally acknowledged to be beneficial for physical and mental health & wellbeing. So how can we help?
Dynamic Dunescapes is an ambitious project, rejuvenating some of England & Wales' most important sand dunes for people, communities and wildlife. The concept of dune rejuvenation, introducing areas of bare and moving sand to increase natural dune dynamics increasing biodiversity, is relatively unpractised by site managers.
Conventional teaching remains that dune systems need to be stabilised particularly for flood and coastal protection; and that people are unwelcome in sand dune systems. However, our thinking has changed.
To help explain new conservation approaches, and to raise awareness of rare and vulnerable sand dune habitats and wildlife, the Dynamic Dunescapes Project has developed resources for educators.
These include an activity pack and logbook for primary schools and an education enquiry for secondary schools and colleges (both available in English and Welsh).
The Dynamic Dunescapes Activity Pack developed for primary schools offers a range of activities that can be undertaken at sand dune sites or for comparative study in education settings. Pupils are led through a journey of exploration and discovery developing individual and group skills through experiential learning. Pupils will understand the links between plants, water, sand and wind and how these elements combine to provide healthy, dynamic dune systems.
The education enquiry for secondary schools and colleges takes a more in depth look at historic sand dune management, issues and threats to sand dunes and explores the new approaches to dynamic sand dune management. The enquiry links to a series of e-learning modules to support the learners experience.
A series of lesson plans for KS1-2-3-4 are also available with teaching notes.
Dune Battle is a Top Trumps-style game which sixth-form teachers have been using to teach students about dune species interaction and IDing plants before field trips.
People, communities and sand dunes
For decades, the perception has been that people are not welcome in sand dunes. It is now understood that, if we want people to care for and look after these special places, they need to access, understand and be involved in their management and monitoring. This can include fun exploration and play, developing and growing understanding of the connections between plants and animals and how they rely on each other. Ultimately, we lead into how people impact on their local environment both in a positive and negative way. The Dynamic Dunescapes education resources offer support and guidance to improve understanding and encourage enjoyable, responsible pro-environmental behaviours.
What’s the problem in the dunes?
Many of us know and love sand dunes as beautiful coastal landscapes, but they are also important biodiversity hotspots. Dunes are a sanctuary for rare species which are perfectly adapted to live in sand. At a healthy dune system, you could find thriving populations of orchids, bees, toads, birds and lizards.
However, these specialist plants and animals are at risk. Indeed, sand dunes are one of Europe’s habitats most at risk from biodiversity loss. Over time, many dunes have become covered by grass and scrub which have over-stabilised the sand, and invasive species have overtaken native ones. Invasive and rank vegetation also enrich the soil increasing the organic content in these normally nutrient poor locations further favouring aggressive invasive growth. Nitrogen deposition adds fuel to the fire and sensitive dune plant populations become swamped and outcompeted.
We now know that a dune environment needs areas of freely moving sand, healthy sheltered dune slacks, (damp or wet hollows), and areas with low vegetation to support its diverse wildlife. We’re using pioneering conservation techniques to rejuvenate the dunes and make their shifting sands the perfect habitat for threatened wildlife again.
Volunteers have been assisting in scrub and invasive species removal. Image: Ellie Chidgey
What is dune rejuvenation?
Dune rejuvenation means looking at dunes which have become stabilised over time and creating areas of bare sand restoring some of the natural mobility that has been lost from the dune system.
The aim of the management techniques being used is to encourage natural dune dynamics, enabling the combination of wind, sand, water and plants to rejuvenate over-stabilised dune systems. Healthy dune systems require mobile dunes ideal for early successional plants and animals. Inland the landscape tends towards semi-fixed and fixed dunes, including dune slacks where specialist species able to cope with salty environments and variable water availability thrive.
Creating notches in fore dunes and re-profiling slacks are important to allow sand to move through the dunes and for the dunes to shift. With more bare sand exposed, windy conditions create ‘sand rain’ where sand from one part of the dune is lifted and dropped elsewhere. This benefits early sand dune succession species and provides ideal conditions for specialist and pioneer sand-loving wildlife.
The project is also undertaking turf-stripping to remove the accumulated layers of enriched topsoil which both exposes bare sand and reveals the ideal substrate for dune plant species. This technique has been shown to double plant species numbers in a turf-stripped area several years after the intervention.
Conservation grazing using cattle, ponies and sheep, (including the reintroduction of rabbits at some sites), will ensure that grassland sward heights are kept low and varied because of different grazers. This creates the ideal habitats for insects, wildflowers and ground-nesting birds.
Cattle have been introduced to help graze the dunes at Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe NNR in Lincolnshire and Studland Bay in Dorset. Image: BNPS
Conservation management at scale
Scrub clearance, scrapes, turf-stripping, invasive species removal are all proven management techniques but are often undertaken on a small scale. Supported by National Lottery Heritage Fund and the EU LIFE Programme, Dynamic Dunescapes partners (Natural England, Plantlife, Natural Resources Wales, National Trust and The Wildlife Trusts) are working at a landscape scale using industrial machinery. For optimal impacts, a combination of conservation management interventions is required to re-establish natural dune dynamics.
An important message is that the partnership is seeking to establish more bare sand, not all bare sand in our work to replicate natural processes. There will be times and locations where it may be appropriate to stabilise mobile dunes where there are genuine and ongoing threats to roads, homes and businesses. Any conservation management action to rejuvenate dune systems, encouraging natural dune dynamics to benefit rare and endangered species, will be evidence-based, policy-led and will have involved active consultation, listening to the range of sometimes conflicting views and ideas. At Project sites, works on dunes only take place following extensive environmental and geomorphological surveying to ensure that it is the right course of action for the wildlife, and that these techniques will have a positive impact on the dune system for many years to come.