Get the answers to all your questions about the project.
Dynamic Dunescapes is a new project 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.
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 allows 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’ll also work 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 will work 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 2023.
Natural England, Plantlife, National Trust, Natural Resources Wales and the Wildlife Trusts (in particular: Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and Cumbria Wildlife Trust) are working 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 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.
The work at each site is 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.
The work planned at every site is slightly different because each dune system is unique and needs a different care package! Some sand dune sites need removal of invasive species like sea buckthorn that is taking over the habitat. Others need areas scraped to remove a layer of rich organic material that is covering the sand. A few sites will benefit from more extensive rejuvenation techniques with ‘notches’ 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’s happening at each site by exploring the ‘Our Sites’ part of this website.
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.
Rejuvenation work can mean 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. 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 our conservation techniques 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.
We’d love help monitoring wildlife and the changes in the sand dune systems! From identifying and recording species on the dunes or measuring hydrology with dipwells to the removal of scrub and invasive species from the landscape or doing fixed-point photography, there are a range of exciting volunteering opportunities at each of our sites. Whether you have half an hour to spare and want to help, or you’d like to join a regular team and really get to know your local dunes, visit our volunteer page and find an event at a site near you.
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!
Work is well underway on the England Coast Path, a new National Trail around all of England’s coast.
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. It hopes to have all stretches approved and with establishment works underway by the end of 2021.
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.
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