Shifting sand dunes

Sandscale Haws dunes

Wander through the sand dunes in the summer and enjoy all the orchids, bees and butterflies or stand amongst them on a cold, blowy day and experience the shifting sands. Sandscale’s dunes are constantly changing.

The oldest dunes at Sandscale are around 400 years old. Every year, especially in winter, they face constant battering by winds and sea, building them up and blowing them along the beach to create new dunes.

We call these new dunes ‘embryo’ dunes. They are the little hummocks of sand which are made when the blown sand forms around grasses like sea lyme grass or sand couch. Their strong roots help to anchor the sand and slowly a dune develops.

Once the embryo dunes start to get more established and the grasses are completely engulfed by sand, the fast-growing marram grass takes over. It can survive the moving, shifting sand and can grow up to a metre in height every year. Most of the dunes at Sandscale are now completely covered by grasses which eventually make the whole dune stable.

Sandscale Haws embryo dune
Sandscale Haws Embryo dune
Sandscale Haws embryo dune

The dunes run parallel to the beach with some much higher than others. The undulations along the dune ridge which you may have run up and down as a child are created by ‘blowouts’. These are where the dunes are blasted away by wind, leaving behind bare sand which is perfect habitat for some rare and specialist wildlife.

Dune blowout Sandscale Haws
Sandscale Haws Blowout
Dune blowout Sandscale Haws

As you walk along the boardwalk to reach the beach at Sandscale you will notice a newly formed pool in a hollow on the beach. This is a dune slack and has been created where wind has blown away the sand. At wet times of year this creates a shallow pool which provides an ideal habitat for breeding natterjack toads and plants such as variegated horsetail.

Male Natterjack Toad at Sandscale Haws
Male Natterjack Toad at Sandscale Haws
Male Natterjack Toad at Sandscale Haws