Sefton Coast

Stretching for around 20km between Liverpool and Southport, the Sefton Coast sand dune system is the largest in England. The environment here supports lots of different dune-specialised species, so it’s recognised as one of the most important dune habitats in North-west Europe and is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. Our work on the Sefton Coast covers over 4,500 hectares of sand dunes, beach and tidal mud flats, and some areas of heath and woodland. The very long and wide beach here is a beautiful place to enjoy the coast and take a long walk by the sea, making it popular with visitors from far and wide year-round.

Our work on the protected Sefton Coast takes place across the vast sand dune system, including at Ainsdale Sand Dunes NNR (led by Natural England) and Formby (led by National Trust).

A whole range of dune types can be found here, from shifting dunes to dune grassland and dunes with creeping willow, and wet dune slacks in between many of the ridges. Sefton also has one of the rarest wildlife habitats in the UK: dune heath. It takes about 300 years for lime from seashells in the dune sand to be washed out by rain so the sand becomes acidic enough for the dune heath heather to grow. Thick vegetation and some trees which dominate the rare dune heather will also be removed, to restore this rare and open habitat, home to specialised heath wildlife.

Large populations of sand lizard and northern dune tiger beetle live in the frontal dune shifting sands, but as the dunes have become more stabilised by plant growth, the bare sand habitats they need are becoming smaller and disconnected. By exposing bare sand, stripping some turf and mowing dense or overgrown vegetation, we’ll create new areas at Ainsdale Sand Dunes NNR in which these creatures can thrive. This will also encourage more sand to move through the dune system, keeping it dynamic.

Photos from the Sefton Coast

Invasive species (plants which are not usually found in the area) are a problem in Sefton. Volunteer surveys along the Sefton Coast have shown that Rosa rugosa has spread across huge areas of the dunes. Its thick bushes might produce pretty pink flowers, but as it’s an invasive species and threatens the habitats of our native dune wildlife, some of our work here will be to remove up to 6 hectares of it.

Rabbits and sheep used to graze these dunes. They’ve been gone for several decades, allowing a spiky plant called sea buckthorn has been able to spread, changing the dune habitat for wildlife, so it now needs removing manually in some places. Thick vegetation which is taking over the rare dune heather will also be removed, to restore this rare and biodiverse habitat.

Farming nearby and local aquifer use have lowered the water table significantly, affecting the dune slacks and areas in which dune plants are able to grow. We will address water availability to make sure the dunes can still support all the plants and wildlife that love to live there. Sefton is home to 40% of the UK’s population of the protected natterjack toad.

Wildlife you might see on the Sefton Coast

There is an exciting range of nationally rare plants surviving in the Sefton dunes, including the tiny petalwort, the tufty grey hair grass, and the long-leaved reddish-green moss found mostly on the Ainsdale National Nature Reserve.

Up to 40% of the UK’s natterjack toad population can be found here, as the extensive dune slacks and ponds are the perfect place for them to hide and mate. Great crested newts can also be found.

On sunny days, you can often see two of the area’s best-known species enjoying the bare sand: sand lizards can often be spotted sunbathing and the beautifully striped, rare northern dune tiger beetle hunts on sand.

In terms of birdlife, Sefton is an important place for many species of birds. Skylark, meadow pipit and wheatear are great to watch for in the dunes. These are ground-dwelling or ground-nesting species, though, so pay attention to areas which might be restricted for their protection.

Natalie Coffey

Meet Your Friendly Face in Sefton

Natalie Coffey
People Engagement Officer, Natural England

I love getting out in nature, whether it’s with my two dogs or by myself. Sand dunes are one of my favourite environments to spend time in, either by having picnics on the dunes at Formby or taking the dogs for a walk on the Lytham Sand Dunes. There is so much life hiding in the dunes, I can’t wait to show you it! Maybe we’ll even see the elusive sand lizard. I’m also excited to hear all about your #dunememories and to help you create new dune memories!

You can 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 on this website, so remember to check back often to see what we’ve added to our exciting calendar!

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