Keeping the dunes bare

Evening cloud shadows on grasses and wildflowers on the dunes at Sandscale Haws

Areas of bare sand provide the right kind of habitat for so much wildlife at Sandscale Haws and it’s a constant job for the ranger team to stop the whole of the sand dune system from turning into grassland.

It’s a strange idea to think that sand dunes are mobile but like a pile of sand in your hand, it is constantly moving. With the effects of the wind and the tide battering the dunes along the edge of the beach, they are always changing. This natural movement creates crucial pockets of bare sand which help rare pioneer plants to grow and natterjack toads and solitary bees to burrow.

Dunes at Sandscale Haws
Sandscale Haws Dune grass
Dunes at Sandscale Haws

Windblown Sand builds up around debris or plants on the beach and in the dunes and as it is captured by strong Marram grass it starts to form a dune.

The Marram grass continues growing up through the sand. Eventually it stops growing and other plants and grasses start to move in.

Marram grass in flower
Sandscale Haws Maran grass
Marram grass in flower

These new dune grasslands that are formed are rich in wildlife, but the crucial pioneer habitats are gradually lost.

Since 1946 open bare sand habitats at Sandscale have dropped to under 2%. Mobile dunes are now only around the seaward edge of the nature reserve, everywhere else has been covered by grasses and scrub.

To help create a more open habitat the rangers have been trialling 3 different methods:

1. Created bare patches of sand in the dunes Using hand tools, they’ve created more open areas in the grassland to help those rare pioneer plants to grow.
2. Encouraged sand to move inland By creating some weak points in the taller dunes which edge onto the beach their aim is to encourage the bare dune sand to move towards the land and form openings (blowouts). It helps to change the shape of the dunes and create new wet hollows (dune slacks)