Sand dune erosion at East Head

Eroding sand dune at East Head

Regular visitors will have noticed that the dunes at East Head have been affected by significant erosion in the past couple of months. This was the result of a combination of high spring tides, storm surges and strong winds at the same time.

We are asking people to please help us in looking after the dunes by checking the tide times and to avoid visiting during high tides as the footfall across the dunes tramples the marram grass which increases the erosion.  At these times the Wittering beaches to the west of East Head can still be accessed. 

This winter has seen a number of storm events and high tides, resulting in some dramatic looking sand cliffs facing into the harbour.  We know that one winter is not the same as the next and our coastal habitats have evolved thanks to these changes cycling through the decades and beyond. Generally winter storms take material away and summer storms bring it back in and deposit it back on the beaches and dune systems.

Sand dunes are rare and fragile habitats, home to unique plants and wildlife
Sand dune system at East Head
Sand dunes are rare and fragile habitats, home to unique plants and wildlife

Just round the corner from the sand cliffs are large sections of the dune that are growing, so if left to its own devices East Head behaves as a normal sand dune system, growing and evolving over time.  East Head is a fantastic place to watch these changes take place and the dunes grow and contract. If you have any old pictures of East Head they will clearly show the changes that will have occurred across the years.

Whether it’s daily as a local or visitors on holiday, East Head has a special place in lots of people’s hearts. The problem we have to deal with comes at the busiest times, particularly during a high tide when visitors have to retreat to the dunes to get around. At this point the dunes and their wildlife have to deal with erosion from feet and the waves.

Visitors can help manage erosion to the fragile sand dunes at East Head
Eroding sand dunes at East Head
Visitors can help manage erosion to the fragile sand dunes at East Head

So how can our visitors help us manage this fragile and important habitat?  Our greatest challenge is to change the way people use the dunes, so East Head can continue to naturally manage itself, growing and contracting with each different season and year. The simplest way of doing this is to ask people to avoid visiting during high tides. Tide times can be found here  , so you can plan your day out.  

Visitors can also help by avoiding the roped off areas – this includes keeping dogs off these areas too. You may have noticed that these fenced areas are as dynamic as the sand dunes themselves. The Rangers have chosen them specially, whether it is to give the vegetation a chance to come back, to protect nesting or roosting birds or to try and reduce erosion pinch points.  It is always for a good reason, to ensure East head continues to be the special place that we know and love.

With climate change, sea levels and temperatures have already risen and brings the possibility of more frequent stormy winters and unpredictable seasons. By working together we can ensure that East Head is as robust as possible to still roll with the natural and human punches that it absorbs so well.