What is the Dynamic Dunescapes project?

Dynamic Dunescapes is a partnership project that has been working to restore sand dunes across England and Wales for the benefit of wildlife, people and communities. 

Often seen as a holiday destination or the perfect spot to spend a sunny summer’s day, it sometimes comes as a surprise to learn that the coastal dunes of England and Wales are internationally important habitats for wildlife! These dunes are a sanctuary to many unique and rare species, like the fen orchid, natterjack toad and sand lizard.

But, conventional dune management over many decades has created stable dunes that have become overgrown with vegetation. Conservationists now know that this is actually putting these special creatures at risk. As our understanding of what’s best for the dunes has changed, new conservation methods have evolved. The Dynamic Dunescapes project has used and also helped to improve these methods.

Dynamic Dunescapes 3

Healthy sand dunes need to be free to move and be dynamic. We know that some of our protected wildlife needs areas of open sand to thrive, so the resources and funding of the Dynamic Dunescapes project has allowed us to bring life back to the dunes by creating areas of open sand. Other specialised creatures need us to improve the dune slacks, as these often water-filled dips behind the dunes are important habitats for amphibians and birds. We have also worked to remove invasive species from the dunes and dune grasslands, to improve conditions for some of our rarest native plants to flourish.

The Dynamic Dunescapes project is big and ambitious – targeting some of the most important sand dune systems across England and Wales. We have also worked with schools and local groups, volunteers and visitors of all ages and abilities to help rejuvenate our dunes and allow the threatened wildlife to flourish.

Why are sand dunes threatened?

Sand dunes are listed as the habitat most at risk in Europe, and they actually face threats from many different things.

They are at risk of becoming stabilised so that the dune sand is no-longer able to move freely. Invasive species are also a big problem; when plants or animals who aren’t native to a dune environment end up in a sand dune, they can flourish quickly and overwhelm the other species which are adapted to live there.

With this comes species loss and less biodiversity. All the extra plant growth means the sand becomes more enriched with nutrients too, encouraging even more plant growth and stabilisation.

Gwithian Towans Cornwall Credit Emma Brisdion
A smiling woman stands behind a table under a gazebo outside with the Dynamic Dunescapes logo

What work has been taking place and why is it needed?

The works undertaken at every site are slightly different because each dune system is unique and needs a different care package! Some sand dune sites needed large areas of invasive species like sea buckthorn or Japanese rose removing, as they had ben taking over the habitat. In fact, we've removed 85 hectares of invasive species so far!

Others have needed areas scraped with machinery to remove a layer of rich organic material that had formed, covering up the sandy habitat beneath. A few sites, such as Oxwich, Formby and Braunton Burrows, are now benefiting from a more extensive rejuvenation techniques known as ‘notches’ - v-shaped gaps created in the frontal dunes using tractors. All these techniques have the aim of creating more bare sand to allow dune wildlife to flourish.

What is dune rejuvenation?

We have rejuvenated 163 hectares of sand dune to date.

Healthy fore-dunes have a lot of bare sand and are constantly moving. Dune rejuvenation means looking at dunes which have become stabilised over time and creating areas of bare sand.

In stabilised dunes, shrubs and sometimes even trees have been able to grow. When these plants put down roots, the dunes become less able to move and stop being dynamic. The wildlife we’re protecting in this project needs moving, bare sand to survive, so at some of our sites we need to remove these plants.

Our rejuvenation work has in some places meant creating notches in the dunes. These involve digging a pathway through or over the fore-dune, which exposes lots of bare sand.

a digger is shown carving a gap in a frontal sand dune

Another technique is to dig and lower the hollows (slacks) between the dunes. These notches and bare slacks are super important for allowing sand to move through the dunes and for the dunes to shift. With more bare sand exposed, windy conditions create ‘sand rain’, where sand from one part of the dune is lifted and dropped elsewhere. This benefits early sand dune succession stages and keeps our bare sand-loving wildlife happy!

This work will only take place at a few of our sand dune sites. At these dunes, extensive environmental and geomorphological surveying has been carried out to ensure that it’s the right course of action for the wildlife, and that these techniques will have a really positive impact on the dune system for many years to come.

Where we're working

From Cornwall to Cumbria, the Dynamic Dunescapes project will restore nine key dune areas in England and Wales. These key areas include 34 individual dune sites and cover up to 7,000 hectares.

Find out more about what’s happening at each site...

Download the Project Information Note

For more information.