The beautiful Cumbrian coastline has long been popular with keen birders, botanists and nature lovers. Cumbria is a fantastic place in which to explore the range of sand dune habitats that can be found in England, boasting thousands of acres of sand dune systems.
Our work in Cumbria
From the tip of Grune Point to Walney Island, this project has chosen 11 different sites on the Cumbrian coast that will benefit from practical conservation works. Many of which face very similar challenges. Sand dunes need to be dynamic to support healthy wildlife populations, but, in most of these systems, bare sand can only be found at the frontal dunes where winter storm winds keep some of it mobile amongst the marram grass.
Cumbria has some of the best-known sites for protected natterjack toads, but these amphibians rely on seasonal flooding to keep the dune slacks wet enough for them to breed in. This means there need to be enough pools within sand dune systems to allow for changing water levels. So, four ponds are being excavated at Eskmeals, and at Mawbray Banks Dynamic Dunescapes has created three new pools and restored an existing one. Our monitoring team have since seen 80 natterjack adults here. In 2023, North Walney NNR and Haverigg Dunes will also experience pond creation and restoration work.
Historic aerial photos show how much Cumbria’s dunes have changed. For example, most of the open sand that once characterised the dune systems at South Walney and Sandscale Haws just 60 years ago is now covered in vegetation – and this is leading to biodiversity loss. At South Walney, turf stripping works (removing the top layer of soil to expose the bare sand below) have resulted in a 50% increase in flora biodiversity, as many of the dune specialist pioneer plants colonise the sand.
Seven hectares of dense scrub have also been removed at Haverigg, giving the dune system’s natterjack toads more bare sand in which to burrow into and hibernate, and large areas of gorse have been removed from Grune Point, Askam and Sandscale Haws.
Not all vegetation control has been mechanical in nature; Dynamic Dunescapes has also been bringing cows using NoFence collars to many of our sites, including at North Walney NNR and Mawbray Banks. Cattle do a fantastic job at keeping unwanted scrub at bay and making an ecosystem more diverse.
Invasive species are also a problem on Cumbria’s dunes. Japanese rose (Rosa rugosa) and sea buckthorn grow rapidly and overtake the environment. They can make it difficult for native and rare species to grow and stabilise the sand. We have removed large areas of Rosa rugosa from the dunes on Mawbray Banks, Haverigg, Drigg, North Walney and Sandscale Haws.
We’ve also led 53 volunteer beach cleans across Cumbria and removed 1.51 tonnes of litter from North Walney alone since 2021!
Our work on the Cumbrian Coast takes place across many different sites; Grune Point, Silloth Dunes, Drigg Dunes, Eskmeals, Haverigg, Roanhead, Sandscale Haws, North Walney including West of Airfield, and South Walney. The project is led in Cumbria by Natural England, working with Cumbria Wildlife Trust and National Trust.
Wildlife you might see on the Cumbrian Coast
The Cumbrian coast is one of the best places to see natterjack toads; the UK’s largest population can be found living and breeding in the warm dune slack pools at many of our project sites.
The dunes here are also home to the beautiful northern dune tiger beetle, which dig holes into the face of the dunes to bury their larvae and to hide in at night.
At the tip of the dunes at South Walney, you can see the only grey seal colony in Cumbria.
There are plenty of fascinating plants to look out for in Cumbria, too. The small coralroot orchid can be found in the dune slacks of Sandscale Haws, and Cumbria’s dunes are also home to the nationally rare dune helleborine, whose delicate green, white and pink flowers can be spotted in July and August.
Meet Your Friendly Face in Cumbria
People Engagement Officer, Cumbria Wildlife Trust
Having grown up on Cumbrian coast, I have a strong affinity for our rugged and beautiful dunes! My background is in Developmental Biology, however I’ve spent a lot of time working with community groups, sharing my love of nature and wildlife. I can’t wait to get stuck into the project to help local communities, particularly those who haven’t had much experience of the outdoors, discover more about our incredible sand dune habitats and the wildlife on their doorsteps. I hope to encourage people to have a sense of ownership and pride in their local area, and help to protect it for future generations!
Videos from our teams in Cumbria
The Cumbria Dynamic Dunescapes team will also be covering works happening at Fleetwood, Lancashire. 4.5 acres of invasive Rosa rugosa, an invasive species, has been removed along the promenade. This is a popular spot for locals and visitors exploring landmarks along the coast including Rossall Point, the Mount and Marine Hall with views stretching back across Morecambe Bay.
How can you get involved?
We are running a whole host of events, guided walks, nature talks, citizen science projects, volunteering and training or work experience opportunities for the whole community to get involved in.
We also offering opportunities for local schools to explore the dunes and learn about the importance of sand dune habitats and species. We will regularly update our events page, so remember to check back often to see what we’ve added to our exciting calendar!