Dynamic Dunescapes at Studland Bay

Citizen science volunteers at Studland Bay

Studland Bay is changing. Dynamic Dunescapes, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the EU LIFE Programme, is a nationwide project aiming to restore sand dunes across England and Wales. At Studland, the National Trust has been busy getting this under way.

Under the Dynamic Dunescapes project, we are recreating patches of bare sand through the formation of ‘scrapes’.

This involves removing the above ground vegetation and then digging out the soil back to bare sand.

The bare sand on the scrapes will provide homes for rare plants and animals. Last year in October, twelve areas were cleared of vegetation.

The areas chosen for this work were thick in heather or gorse and had been surveyed to confirm the absence of rare plants or invertebrates.

Scrapes will come in a variety of shapes and sizes
An example of a scrape
Scrapes will come in a variety of shapes and sizes

This year in April, a smaller area within these sites will be scraped back to bare sand. The shape and size of the scrape will depend on the site. Some scrapes will be a single large area, some will be long and thin, sinuous or have multiple mini scrapes within the area.

This Summer, we will also see the return of cattle grazing to the dunes. The cows will graze the densely vegetated areas well away from the beach and the busiest paths. They will feed mainly on purple moor grass and willow in the wet areas, but they will also trample through the heather and gorse and help keep our new sandy spaces open.

Arty cows like this one herald the arrival of real ones later this year
An art work representing the cattle which will soon be grazing the dunes at Studland
Arty cows like this one herald the arrival of real ones later this year

We have chosen Red Devon cattle, which have previously grazed National Trust sites in Purbeck, because we know that they are calm and docile creatures. You may spot a distant cow if you are walking through the dunes or along the Northern Boundary footpath.

If you do see the cattle, please do not approach or disturb them and keep your dogs at a safe distance. Taking all your litter home also keeps our cows safe and our dunes beautiful.  

Why does this need to happen?

Over the past 100 years, Studland’s sand dunes have become over-vegetated and have declined in biodiversity.

Climate change, air pollution and previous overprotective management have all accelerated plant growth and seen our sand dunes slowly turn into heathland and woodland.

In the 1930s about 30 per cent of Studland Bay was bare sand, now it is just two per cent.

The aim of Dynamic Dunescapes is to restore 15 per cent of the land back to bare sand.

Doing so will restore the mosaic landscape of our dunes and hopefully see an increase in rare wildlife that depends on sandy habitats. Species that will benefit from the project include sand lizards, meadow pipits and heath tiger beetles.

Sand lizards are just one of the species that rely on bare sandy habitats to survive
A sand lizard
Sand lizards are just one of the species that rely on bare sandy habitats to survive

To enable us to track these changes and ensure that the impact we are having is a positive one, a citizen science project is under way.

Come rain or shine, our citizen science volunteers are out recording data on the dunes. This year, we will be using the new Dynamic Dunescapes App to record data. A host of data will be recorded including dune profiling, species monitoring and quadrat surveys. 

Little Sea - a very special lake

Another big change happening is at Little Sea. This freshwater lake is very special indeed. It once supported all kinds of strange life due to the high acidity and nutrient poor, crystal-clear water.

That was until around 2005, when carp were illegally introduced. They fed on the rare aquatic plant life and churned up the lake’s sediment. The result was the water turning murky, a dramatic loss of species and a decline in overwintering birds.

Last year, a line of deflectors was installed along the eastern edge of Little Sea to reduce wave action and sediment movement.

Deflectors like this are designed to reduce wave action and sediment movement
Deflectors in Little Sea
Deflectors like this are designed to reduce wave action and sediment movement

Alone, this won't be enough, so the plan is to resume the carp removal process. Cormorants and otters will also be encouraged to inhabit the area to help us achieve our long-term ambition of keeping carp numbers as low as possible.

Want to get involved? Contact Julia Galbenu (see below) for more.

Want to find out more? Follow our Instagram page or check out the Dynamic Dunescapes website.

Studland Bay's Dunescapes engagement officer Julia./ Photo credit Swanage News

Meet Julia

Julia is Studland's Dynamic Dunescapes engagement officer and is here for all your dune needs. Whether it's volunteering, education or an event, Julia is your point of contact. Get in touch with her at Julia.Galbenu@nationaltrust.org.uk