Case Study

Managing a Dune Mosaic habitat at Morfa Bychan, Wales

Dynamic Dunescapes

Case Study Type:

Habitat Management Case Study

Sand dune system:

Morfa Bychan, Wales

Case Study Subject:

Mosaic habitat management

About The Dune System Habitat Management Intervention

About the site

The dune habitats at Morfa Bychan are of special interest because of their botanical communities. The dune system is complementary to the larger system at Morfa Harlech. Adjacent to the shore, pioneer dunes are developing on the strandline, supporting sand couch Elytrigia juncea and prickly saltwort Salsola kali. Inland of these are actively forming dunes, dominated by marram grass Ammophila arenaria with sea spurge Euphorbia paralias and sea holly Eryngium maritimum. The nationally scarce dune fescue Vulpia fasciculata, a plant inhabiting open areas of mobile sand, has been found on the site.

Areas of mature, fixed dune support plants including burnet rose Rosa pimpinellifolia, sand sedge Carex arenaria and restharrow Ononis repens. Wet dune slacks, best seen in the western part of the site behind the dune ridges, support characteristic plants such as the nationally scarce plants variegated horsetail Equisetum variegatum and sharp rush Juncus acutus, as well as the common purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria. In the eastern section, the wet slacks have been divided into small fields, with some being grazed whilst others develop into dense willow carr, dominated by willow Salix.

In contrast to the dune system at Morfa Harlech, the landward side of Morfa Bychan retains remnants of the heath vegetation developed on long-stabilised sand. These areas, dominated by heather Calluna vulgaris, bell heather Erica cinerea and gorse Ulex europaeus, remain as ‘roughs’ on the golf course, intermixed with the intensively managed greens and fairways. The scarce fern lanceolate spleenwort Asplenium obovatum subsp. lanceolatum occurs on the cliff north of Ffynnon Ochr-Cefn and at Gareg Wen Bach.

The dune fauna includes common lizard Lacerta vivipara and adder Vipera berus.

It is 17.8ha in total, and North Wales National Trust have owned and managed it since 1963.

What was the issue/change you hoped to make?

This case study observes the on-going creation and maintenance of a more diverse mosaic habitat by reducing scrub and  willow overgrowth, supported by and as part of Dynamic Dunescapes.

What was the suggested intervention?

Common maintenance interventions at this site include grazing, mowing, cutting of dune grassland, willow, and scrub.

What did you do and how?

We use grazing – up to 10 Welsh blacks graze from October to March, and 2 ponies over the spring and summer months. We brushcut and rake off bramble, woody scrub (mostly willow), and gorse when it encroaches too much on to the dune grassland. We also coppice and thin more mature willow as appropriate.

How was the site / intervention monitored?

Historically it hasn’t been, although the team are working to change that through the Dynamic Dunescapes project, for example using vegetation quadrats and dune habitat zonation surveys.

What modifications, if any, did you make to your initial plan and why?

We haven’t really changed it recently, the amount of habitat management achieved depends on our regular Section 16 funding from NRW and the availability of volunteers. The main issue with the grazing is to discourage supplementary feeding by the grazier. We recently installed a new livestock pen and water trough through extra money available through NRW’s Section 16 and had some scrapes dug to make the dunes more mobile.

Highlight any issues/obstacles & how you overcame them?

Challenges include a lack of funding for NWWT staff time to be on site, although we get various extra pots on top of the Section 16 from time to time, this year we have some extra Nature Network Fund money to do habitat management like thinning, coppicing, and Japanese knotweed control. There can be a reluctance of grazier to not supplementary feed. We also experienced a lack of volunteers over Covid lockdowns but this is now improving.

How much did the intervention cost?

Roughly we get about £1500 a year through the Section 16 to pay for NWWT staff time managing volunteer groups to do habitat management, surveys, and fence repairs. This doesn’t fund us to do as much intervention as we would like, however. Depending on availability, we can sometimes get other groups on site to help too.

What size was the area of the intervention?

About 14ha is grazed, and we do scrub control, coppicing, and thinning on approximately 2 ha per year (but that’s a very rough estimate!).

Engagement Measures

How were the public and others engaged?

The public have been engaged through a reserve leaflet and through utilising the NWWT website.

How were communities or volunteers involved?

Volunteers help with scrub management, fence repairs, reptile surveys, etc.

How were schools or other local organisations involved?

Not applicable at this site, as access is tricky.

Is the intervention working?

Please describe how. What has changed?

With the historic lack of monitoring, it is hard to say, although monitoring is now going to be implemented. However, if we hadn’t been doing the management described above we can safely say that the reserve would have mostly succeeded to wet woodland and blackthorn scrub by now.