Get the answers to all your questions about the project.
Dynamic Dunescapes is a partnership project that has worked 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 stabilised dunes, so that they have become overgrown with vegetation. We now realise that this is actually putting these special creatures at risk. Now that our understanding of what’s best for the dunes has improved, we’re ready to use new conservation methods.
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.
The Dynamic Dunescapes project has been big and ambitious – targeting some of the most important sand dune systems across England and Wales. We have 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.
The project is funded until 30 September 2024.
Natural England, Plantlife, National Trust, Natural Resources Wales and the Wildlife Trusts (in particular: Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and Cumbria Wildlife Trust) have worked in partnership to deliver this ambitious and innovative project.
Find out about the project partners on our Partners & Funding page.
From Cornwall to Cumbria, the Dynamic Dunescapes project has worked to restore nine key dune areas in England and Wales. These key areas include 34 individual dune sites and cover up to 7,000 hectares.
The work at each site has been led by one or two of the project’s seven partners, click to find out more about the partners and their work.
Jointly led by Natural England and Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust
Led by National Trust
Led by Cornwall Wildlife Trust
North Devon coast
Led by Plantlife, working with National Trust
Swansea, Neath-Port Talbot
Led by Natural Resources Wales, working with Plantlife and National Trust
Led by Natural Resources Wales, working with Plantlife
Led by Natural Resources Wales, working with Plantlife and National Trust
Led by Natural England at Ainsdale NNR and National Trust at Formby
Led by Natural England
Working with Cumbria Wildlife Trust and National Trust
Other delivery partners include MOD, Environment Agency, local councils, Christie Devon Estates, golf clubs and other private landowners.
Find out more about the individual sites.
Many visitors to our sand dunes know and love them as beautiful landscapes perfect for playing in or exploring on foot. But these impressive environments, an iconic backdrop of many happy days spent at the beach, are also important biodiversity hotspots. The dunes are home to rare species which are perfectly adapted to live in the naturally shifting sand. At a healthy dune site, you could find orchids, toads, birds and lizards thriving.
Sand dunes are also a fantastic natural coastal defence, protecting the areas behind them from the worst of stormy weather. They will have an important role to play as big weather events increase with climate change.
World Sand Dune Day is celebrated annually by coastal communities and projects across the world, established by Dynamic Dunescapes and Sands of LIFE, two projects working to restore coastal sand dune systems. Each year, #WorldSandDuneDay takes place on the last Saturday of June.
Following the success of the first ever World Sand Dune Day in 2021, we have been delighted to watch the awareness day grow each year, with coastal nature reserve managers, community groups and conservation organisations in the UK, Europe and beyond, hosting a wide range of exciting events! From dune yoga or nature-inspired art sessions to photography workshops and guided walks, there are myriad ways that people have connected with these special landscapes. Even when Dynamic Dunescapes project has finished, nature organisations and community groups around the world will be able to continue to celebrate World Sand Dune Day.
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.
You can find out more about what has been happening at each site by exploring the ‘Our Sites’ part of this website.
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.
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.
We are only doing these works in areas that are well away from homes and infrastructure that could be negatively impacted by moving sand. However, we have over 70 years’ experience in stabilising dunes. So, in the unlikely scenario that dunes start moving to places where they are not welcome, we know how to make them stop.
From toads and lizards to butterflies and orchids, there are many different species that our work will help to protect for years to come. Some are rare while others are more common, but each of these species are specially adapted for life in a healthy sand dune environment. These include the natterjack toad, the silver studded blue butterfly, the fen orchid and the dune gentian.
To find out more about dune wildlife and how the conservation techniques that we've used will help, visit the Dune Wildlife page.
You can also find out which species you might find at each of your local sand dune sites by visiting the project site pages.
This project is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the EU LIFE Programme. Thanks to this funding and contributions from the partners, Natural England, Plantlife, National Trust, Natural Resources Wales and the Wildlife Trusts are working in partnership to deliver this ambitious and innovative project.
Sand dunes are listed as the habitat most at risk in Europe in terms of biodiversity loss, 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.
Yes! We’d love you to explore the dunes, but please keep the dunes’ beautiful wildlife in mind while you do. Dunes are the perfect place for playing hide and seek or stopping for a picnic, and spotting some of the dune wildlife can be a great experience for families, naturalists and photographers alike.
In some places, by exploring the paths in the dunes you’ll be helping our conservation efforts by keeping parts of the sand bare and slowing the growth of vegetation. But, some sites will also have areas of restricted access, where it’s best for the wildlife to be left alone for a while. For example, we don’t want to disturb natterjack toads in the dune slack pools during their breeding season. As all of our dune sites are different, the best thing to do is to keep an eye out for signs.
The dunes across England and Wales are popular with dog owners year-round and we want you and your dogs to continue to enjoy the dunes, but there are restrictions in some areas of our dune sites designed to protect wildlife and our conservation activities. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the dunes with your dogs that complement our conservation activities.
Every site is different, so keep your eyes out for any signs. Some of our sites have ground-nesting birds and others are introducing grazing cattle so it’s best to be aware of where they’ll be and to avoid them, as livestock and breeding birds can be startled by even the best-behaved dogs. Some of our sites have areas that are particularly good for dogs to run off the lead, and signs can point you to the perfect spot.
Please also be hot on picking up after your dog, even if it’s not near a main path. Dog poo left in the dunes can cause harm to the wild species the project is helping to conserve, any grazing cattle, to people, and even to other dogs. It’s also full of nutrients and encourages all the plants in the dune system to grow, which we’re often trying to prevent. Keep your eyes on our Events page too, as we’ll have some free dog training sessions and fun events at some of our sites throughout the year.
Whether you visit the dunes every now and then, or on a regular basis, if you are a school or community group, or you simply just love nature and want to ‘do your bit’, then it couldn’t be easier to help us take care of these special places!
We need dune visitors to be Citizen Scientists, collecting data that will help us understand how best to look after the dunes and their wonderful wildlife.
There are plenty of projects you can choose to get involved with, from identifying and monitoring species to measuring and mapping the dunes or taking part in fixed point photography projects. Visit the project site page for your local dunes to find out more about our current Citizen Science projects near you.
Yes! Check out our events page and explore the activities that are coming up at our dune sites, from guided walks to family wildlife-spotting days. Watch out for our new dune den days, packed with exciting and educational activities in the dunes. Some events such as our online talks and webinars have also been made available on our YouTube channel.
Work is well underway on the England Coast Path, a new National Trail around all of England’s coast, and many new sections have been opened.
Progress on the path has slowed as a result of:
- The impact of Covid-19
- A European court judgement in April 2018 that affected how Natural England could assess the impact of England Coast Path proposals on environmentally protected sites
Natural England continues to work towards opening as much of the England Coast Path as possible.
We are different projects, but we are all working towards restoring sand dunes to a thriving and biodiverse status. As our projects share many similarities, we keep in close communication and work in partnership where appropriate.
This website includes detailed information about the conservation actions planned at each site, about the teams, about the wildlife we're protecting and about our schools and public outreach programme.
If you sign up for our newsletter, we’ll send a neat little digest of our latest news and events straight to your inbox.
So, what has the project achieved so far?
That's a great question. Click here to visit a short video that we made in the spring of 2023 to show you (some) of what we've been able to achieve.