Dynamic Dunescapes: Olivia’s story

Olivia Homans

I'm Olivia and I am a placement student from Bangor University, in North Wales studying Zoology with Conservation. I am currently on my placement year. For this I am doing a 7-month placement with the Dynamic Dunescapes project, working with both the engagement and research teams across North Wales.

With the engagement team we are working on tailoring school resources, providing guided walks with local groups and volunteers, and tailoring talks to suit a range of different audiences. We are also encouraging people to share their own coastal stories. Sharing our own experiences in the form of coastal stories can be beneficial in helping to engage more people in the nature that can be found in their local areas, as these are personal stories relating to local sites. This is also a great way to encourage more people to get involved with work in their local area and share information about ongoing conservation and why sand dunes matter. We are also working on developing ways in which we can display the coastal stories to ensure the message is still being spread.

A group of people kneel in the grass to inspect lichen covered wood

As part of my project with the research team I get to create my own research project. As my placement is based in north Wales, in my project I am focusing on two of our sites across Anglesey and Gwynedd, these are Morfa Bychan and Tywyn Fferam.

For my research project, I plan to explore the rabbit population over these two sites and use that data to potentially figure out ways to increase these numbers. In order to do this, I will be carrying out surveys in these areas and mapping out rabbit hotspots. From this I will be recording the type of environments that we find the burrows in. Using this data, hopefully we can see patterns in the habitats the rabbits prefer. This is important as we want to enhance rabbit activity to benefit the sand dunes where appropriate. This is because during the 1950s an outbreak of myxomatosis caused a widespread decrease in rabbit populations. In more recent years Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) has meant that the rabbit populations have struggled to recover. RHDV is a highly infectious virus attacking the rabbits' vital organs. Rabbits are really important on the dunes due to them grazing, creating shorter areas of plant height. As ‘low grazers’, rabbits help to prevent the vegetation from overgrowing and outcompeting smaller specialist species, therefore helping to increase biodiversity over these areas.

This placement was interesting to me as I've always wanted to work in conservation, and I love this idea of trying to get local communities involved with their local areas. Engaging with local communities is a massive part of this project and is a key skill that everyone should learn. By providing people with the opportunities to learn more about these habitats, and the issues they face, the message is less likely to get lost in the long run.