Back on the move – threatened sand dunes set for a dynamic future with National Lottery funding

Peter Cairns/2020VISION

A radical new approach to managing sand dunes that aims to reverse over 100 years of decline has been given £4m funding from the National Lottery.
  • Sand dune habitats have declined by a third since 1900, putting endangered species at risk
  • £4m from The National Lottery Heritage Fund for a pioneering project led by Natural England in partnership with the National Trust, Plantlife, The Wildlife Trusts and Natural Resources Wales
  • Citizen scientists and communities will make the difference to help England and Wales’ most important dunescapes get moving and thriving again

A radical new approach to managing sand dunes that aims to reverse over 100 years of decline has been given £4m funding from the National Lottery. 

Sand dunes - the backdrop of many summer holidays - are being smothered by invasive plants, destroying the habitats of some of our most endangered species.

Now, a pioneering partnership - Dynamic Dunescapes - backed by £4m from the National Lottery is stepping in to save them by working with people to bring life back to the dunes and get them thriving again – reversing a decades old approach to dune management.

Sand dunes are listed as the habitat most at risk in Europe

Sand dunes are listed as the habitat most at risk in Europe. Since 1900, the UK’s sand dunes have declined by a third, climbing to nearly two-thirds in Wales. They provide sanctuary for endangered plants and animals with seventy priority species largely restricted to dune habitats including the natterjack toad, dune gentian and sand lizard.

Dunes are naturally mobile and need to be dynamic to be effective ecosystems. However, previous management measures restricted public access, and invasive species have prevented dunes from moving, causing many to become static, sterile grassy hillocks.

Thanks to National Lottery players, Natural England has teamed up with the National Trust, Plantlife, The Wildlife Trusts and Natural Resources Wales to combine their expertise and achieve a sustainable future for sand dune landscapes working closely with landowners and communities.

Sand Dune - David Tipling 2020VISION

David Tipling/2020VISION

Drew Bennellick, Head of Land and Nature Policy UK at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said:

“This is a really exciting project with a pioneering approach to dune management. In recent decades the approach has been to keep dunes where they are by using fencing and vegetation. We now know that this is bad news for some of the rare species that make their homes among our dunes and they need to be able to naturally move – to be Dynamic Dunescapes.

“It’s not easy to get the balance right – we need dunes to move but we don’t want them to end up in people’s gardens or taking over the beachside car park.  Thanks to this National Lottery funding and the expertise of the partnership organisations, this project can begin to find ways of addressing these pressing issues.”

Over the next four years, the project will:

  • Conserve nearly 7,000 hectares of sand dunes (35% of the total in England and Wales), including natural rabbit grazing, creating dune slacks and removing invasive species.
  • Create a citizen science programme, including thousands of children, to help monitor wildlife and how the sand dune systems are changing.
  • Deliver a skills development programme for individuals and organisations. This will include sand dune management training and research projects.
  • Build a greater understanding and appreciation of sand dunes with people of all ages through an extensive engagement programme.
  • Improve access to sand dunes and, by linking the footfall from visitors with measures to reinvigorate open habitats.
  • Ensure learning from the project is shared across all dune managers to inform UK wide dune rejuvenation.

Marian Spain, interim chief executive of Natural England, said:

“I am delighted to be part of this fantastic project supported by new funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Sand dunes are some of our most precious landscapes, providing a home for a treasure chest of wildflowers and other species. Sadly they are also the most at-risk habitat in Europe.

“People can now enjoy a habitat they have long been encouraged to keep off. We know now that walking and playing on dunes can help create bare sand and crevices for the special wildlife that lives here to colonise. That’s why we’ll be inviting more people to become citizen scientists and discover the fantastic heritage at the top of the beach.”

The project will concentrate on improving the condition of nine identified dune cluster sites at:

  • Anglesey and Gwynedd
  • Braunton Burrows, North Devon Coast
  • Carmarthenshire
  • Cumbrian Coast
  • Lincolnshire Sand Hills
  • North Cornwall Coast
  • Sefton Coast
  • Studland Dunes, Dorset
  • Swansea, Neath, Port Talbot

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, CEO of The Wildlife Trusts, said:

“Sand dunes evoke some of my happiest memories of beach holidays both as a child having picnics or as an adult watching the ravens soaring overhead. So many of us have those memories but as a society we have taken our dunes for granted and lost too many to erosion and development. As a result they are now critically endangered.  It is fabulous that The National Lottery Heritage Fund is helping The Wildlife Trusts and other partners to do something about this.”

“The National Lottery Heritage Fund is behind a major programme to halt the decline of our sand dunes and restore them to dynamic and mobile ecosystems. Not only will this help to save the wonderful plants and creatures that live within and around the dunes, it will also re-establish their important role as a natural flood defence.  We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to experience the joy of the sand dunes around our coasts. This programme will mean that thousands of people from all walks of life have that chance and gives that opportunity to future generations.”

Paul Learoyd, Chief Executive, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, said:

“We are delighted to be part of this fantastic project. The Lincolnshire sand hills have long been recognised as an important feature of the Lincolnshire coast and this funding will enable us to help more people discover the wildlife of the dunes. We'll also be working with local partners including Natural England to manage some of the county’s sand dune habitats.”

Jon Cripps, Dunes Ranger, Cornwall Wildlife Trust said:

‘The Dynamic Dunescapes project is going to help all kinds of dune wildlife that many people don’t realise exist, from spider hunting wasps to rare orchids like the marsh helleborine. The project will help reverse the decline of two of the largest dunes in Cornwall at Penhale and The Towans. Not only will we be able to do some great work on the ground we will also be employing an engagement officer. With their help we’ll be able to get loads more people out on the dunes to enjoy the wildlife and maybe lend a hand managing the dunes too.’    

Discover how you can take part in securing a dynamic future for sand dunes at the Dynamic Dunescapes website.