Conservation work at Formby

Healthy dune habitats at Formby

Formby is one of the fastest changing stretches of coastline under the National Trust’s care. Much of our conservation work here focuses on adapting to this ever-changing landscape. We’re working with nature to restore rare habitats and create space so that all the wonderful wildlife that lives here can thrive.

Formby’s nature haven boasts a mosaic of wildlife habitats from grasslands, heathlands and plantation woodlands to some of Europe’s best sands dunes. This precious landscape provides homes for thousands of species of plants and animals including rare natterjack toads, sand lizards, northern dune tiger beetles and red squirrels. 

Here's a summary of our current conservation projects. Simply click on a link to jump to a specific section:

Restoring rare sand dune habitats

Coastal sand dune habitats are a sanctuary for special plants, insects, birds, reptiles and amphibians; the Sefton Coast is home to 40% of the UK’s population of rare natterjack toads, which breed in the dune pools also known as wet slacks.

Sand dunes need to be free to move. This movement is what creates the habitats rare species such as natterjack toads and sand lizards need to thrive. Areas of naturally shifting, mobile sand are essential, but some of Formby’s sand dunes have become too stable and disconnected. Dense scrub vegetation has taken over and unnatural elements including old construction rubble and dumped tobacco waste are creating barriers for natural processes.

Bringing new life to Formby’s dunes

As part of the Dynamic Dunescapes UK wide project we’ll be giving nature a helping hand to restore rare dune habitats and bring new life to Formby’s sand dunes. Our vision is to create space for sand to move more freely, which will restore natural processes and create healthier habitats for many important and rare species.

We’re using tried and tested conservation techniques to restore rare sand dune habitats including:

  • Making notches or gaps in sand dunes where barriers have been created to natural processes.

  • Restoring and creating new natterjack toad breeding pools to give this rare amphibian the best opportunity to increase their declining population.

  • Removing invasive scrub such as sea buckthorn and japanese rose (rosa rugosa) to create space for rare species to thrive.

  • Creating corridors where the sand dunes meet the woodlands to help these special habitats co-exist.

Old construction rubble spilling out on to beach at Formby

Trouble with the rubble

Old construction rubble can be seen spilling out on to the beach in the Victoria road area. Not only is it unsightly and potentially hazardous but it also creates a barrier that is stopping natural sand movement and disconnecting precious sand dune habitats.

Sea of nettles in the tobacco waste dunes at Formby

Tobacco waste barrier

Tobacco waste dumped between the 1950’s and 1970’s in the Victoria Road area of the dunes is blocking natural sand movement and creating a nutrient rich compost. Over time a dense blanket of rank vegetation has taken over. The flat sea of nettles is unnatural and fragmenting precious habitats. There’s currently very little natural dune vegetation or wildlife in this area.

Find out more about the rubble and tobacco waste at Formby watch this video

Restoring natural processes

In January 2022 the team will be working with experts to create two ‘notches’ or large wedge-shaped gaps in the dunes where the tobacco waste is creating a barrier for natural sand movement. This will replicate the natural undulations found in some of Formby's healthy frontal sand dunes. The notches will funnel wind-blown sand from the beach up over the dunes. Sand will build up on top of the tobacco wasteland and new rolling dunes will start to form. Marram grass and other native dune plants will start to grow and create a more natural sand dune habitat where rare species such as natterjack toads and sand lizards can hunt, breed, bask and thrive. 

Image shows a recent example of a notch excavated in a frontal dune at Oxwich NNR as part of the Dynamic Dunescapes project, taken by Pippa Harman from Natural Resources Wales.

Creating space for nature to thrive

We’re proposing to re-connect and restore the natural sand dune habitats at Victoria Road by removing the existing beach car park and rubble. The majority of the rubble materials would be used to create a replacement car park further inland. This conservation project would restore rare wildlife habitats and create a healthier, more natural place for everyone to enjoy. To find out more about this project proposal click here 

Revealing rare dune heath habitats

The Larkhill area of Formby’s nature haven is a popular spot for dog walking and family fun. Hidden away behind the main field is an area that is protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Our vision is to restore this space into dune heath, one of the rarest habitats along the Sefton coast.

We’re doing this by removing invasive shrubs and trees including gorse and birch trees. This will open up the area and let in more light. Revealing the seed bed underneath will help prompt the natural growth of heather and other special wildflowers and plants.

During the winter of 2020/21, with the help of our fantastic volunteers, work started on clearing gorse from the area. In winter 2021 we’ll be picking up the pace and continuing to create the space needed for wildlife to thrive.

Harnessing the power of nature

The conservation work at Larkhill is on-going and will take a while as we can only cut the gorse during the winter, outside the nesting bird season. Please bear with us as the area will look a bit stark in the short term. Heavy vehicles will temporarily churn up some of the ground as we pull up the gorse roots. We’ll also be burning the scrub in situ.  

Nature will quickly embrace the space and we’ll soon see signs of the thriving, healthy and diverse habitat we’re aiming to create.

Caring for Formby’s woodlands

The woodlands at Formby provide important habitats for many rare species, including red squirrels. We recently updated our plan to care for Formby's woodlands over the next 10 years. We're giving nature a helping hand to improve the health, species diversity, and age structure of this precious habitat, in turn benefitting a wide number of species, which live in the woodlands. This includes the iconic red squirrel, as well as invertebrates, bats, birds and small mammals.

Dense plantation pines trees blocking light and limiting wildlife at Formby

Plantation trees blocking light

Formby’s pine trees aren’t native to the coast, some were planted over 100 years ago. Plantation woodlands are much denser and regimented than nature intended. Densely planted trees create a dark and over-shaded environment limiting wildlife.

Trees suffocated by sand at Formby

Coastal change squeezing habitats

Natural coastal change is squeezing the dune habitat against the woodlands. This squeeze is limiting space and restricting the movement of the dunes. Sand dunes need to be free to move; this creates the habitats rare species like sand lizards need. Trees on the border of the mobile dunes are also being suffocated by the sand and dying.

We'll be using tried and tested conservation techniques to create space and light, allowing healthier pine trees to provide more food for red squirrels. Improving the health of Formby's woodland will attract more wildlife including insects, butterflies, and nesting birds. Our woodland management plan will help us to make these improvements that will bring many benefits to both wildlife and people who love to visit.

We're also enhancing the areas where the woodlands and sand dunes meet. We’ll be making space for the sand dune habitat to grow and thrive by removing trees that are dead or dying due to the sand suffocating their roots. This will help these two special habitats co-exist.

Some of our woodland management work can only take place in the winter months, such as tree thinning and scrub removal, and these works will start in winter 2021. However there are other conservation tasks that we can do all year round, such as invasive species removal, looking after young plantations, and maintaining the huge network of paths across our woodlands. Our dedicated woodland management volunteer group will help us to achieve our ambitious plan, meeting weekly to tackle all this important work

To find out more about how we’re planning to care for Formby’s woodlands download information sheet

Nurturing grassland habitats

As part of our on-going work to protect and care for special habitats we dedicate time each year to nurturing the grassland habitats. Careful management of this area through grazing and mowing helps to keep areas open, creating space for a wider variety of plants and animals to thrive. Keeping the grass to a “sward” height, roughly between 2-10cm allows the smaller, slower-growing wildflowers to compete with the faster growing grasses for space and light. By removing the cut grass, either through the sheep eating it or by collecting cuttings after mowing, this helps to lower nutrient levels in the soil which benefits the rarer dune grassland flora over more common species such as nettle and thistle.

We currently have a flock of hebridean sheep grazing the grasslands. They are on loan to us from our friends at Lancashire Wildlife Trust. 

What to expect whilst work is carried out 

We’ll be sharing regular updates on our website and social media as work progresses, including letting you know about any areas where work is being carried out to help you plan your visit. At times there will be heavy machinery on site and some paths may be closed for short periods of time. Signage will also be in place to highlight areas to keep a safe distance from and alternative routes to take. Look out for information boards on site with more detail on our conservation work in certain areas.

Keeping up to date on our work

We’re committed to listening to and involving everyone who loves to visit in our plans to care for Formby’s special nature haven.  We’ll be closely monitoring the impact, progress and success of this important conservation work and will continue to share updates and information on our social media @NTFormby and here on our website. There will also be lots of opportunities for you to get involved and chat to the team through activities including ranger walk and talks and community drop-in sessions throughout the year.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, or would simply like to find out more about our conservation work, email or call 01704 878591.

Working in partnership 

Dynamic Dunescapes is a partnership project funded by National Lottery Heritage fund and EU LIFE programme. The following partners are working on similar projects across the UK: Natural England, Plantlife, Natural Resources Wales and The Wildlife Trusts.

Find out more about the UK wide Dynamic Dunescapes project here

" Every time you pay to park, scan your membership card, give your time as a volunteer or donate you're supporting our important conservation work at Formby's nature haven - thank you. "
- Kate Martin - Lead Ranger Formby


A family explore the sand dunes at Formby

Get involved in the future of Formby

Find out what's happening at Formby and get involved. Together we can shape future plans to protect this precious landscape and the rare species that call it home.