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 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.
From the tip of Grune Point, full of historic remnants, to the colourful pockets of dune waxcap grassland and healthland tucked away at North Walney, this project has chosen 11 different sites on the Cumbrian coast that will benefit from practical habitat management and conservation works. Many of which face very similar challenges. We now know that 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 the winds of winter storms keep some of it mobile amongst the marram grass.
Rabbits can be an important part of a healthy sand dune system; by grazing they keep vegetation short, which benefits wildflowers and many species of insect, and by burrowing they keep sand around the mouth of their dens bare, allowing it to be moved through the dunes by the wind. Thanks to a disease called myxomatosis in the 1950s, rabbit populations are much lower than they were. We will be creating better conditions for the existing small rabbit populations to grow, so that they can help keep the plant growth on the dunes low. Other grazers will also be introduced at some sites, including hardy cattle and sheep populations. Keeping grassland low and restoring sea bird colonies at sites such as Drigg, will also help support birds that live in or visit the dunes.
Historic aerial photos show how much of the open sand that once characterised the dune systems at South Walney and Sandscale Hawes even just 60 years ago is now covered in vegetation. Turf stripping and dense scrub clearance at many of our Cumbria sites to expose more areas of bare sand – which will give threatened species such as the sand lizard and the northern dune tiger beetle more habitat in which to thrive.
Invasive plant species (plants which do not usually grow in this environment but have been introduced at some point) are also a problem on Cumbria’s dunes. As invasive plants can grow rapidly and overtake the environment, they can make it difficult for native and rare species to grow – and they also shade and stabilise the sand! Rosa rugosa and the spiky sea buckthorn will be removed from many areas of sand dunes.
Cumbria has some of the best-known sites for protected natterjack toads, on both dunes and saltmarshes, but these amphibians rely on seasonal flooding to keep the dune slacks wet enough for them. This means there need to be enough pools within sand dune systems to allow for changing water levels, so some of our work will also be to improve the dune slacks and pools. Want to get involved in the project? There will be opportunities for volunteers to work on our natterjack toad conservation.
The Cumbria Dynamic Dunescapes team will also be covering works happening at Fleetwood, Lancashire. Rosa rugosa, an invasive species, will be 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.
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!
How can you get involved?
We are planning 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’ll also be 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!