Conservation work at Formby
Formby is one of the fastest changing stretches of coastline under the National Trust’s care. Discover how we're working with nature to restore rare habitats and create space for wildlife to thrive.
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 that 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, the rangers at Formby will be giving nature a helping hand to restore rare dune habitats and bring new life to its sand dunes. The 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.
The team is 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 coexist.
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.
Tobacco waste is creating a barrier - tobacco waste dumped between the 1950s and 1970s 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.
To find out more about the rubble and tobacco waste at Formby, watch this video.
Restoring natural processes
At the start of 2022 the team at Formby worked with specialist contractors to create two ‘notches’ or large wedge-shaped gaps in the dunes where the tobacco waste is creating a barrier for natural sand movement. They 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 over-topping the tobacco leaf waste and rank vegetation.
Creating space will allow sand to shift and shape over time and for marram grass to recolonise naturally. The aim is to restore a more natural dune habitat.
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. Click here to find out more about this project proposal.
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). The team’s vision is to restore this space into dune heath – one of the rarest habitats along the Sefton coast.
By working with fantastic volunteers and specialist contrators over the last couple of winters we've removed significant amounts of invasive shrubs and trees, including gorse and birch trees. This has opened up the area, let in more light and created the space native wildlife needs to thrive. Revealing the seed bed underneath is helping prompt the natural growth of heather and other special wildflowers and plants.
Harnessing the power of nature - the conservation work at Larkhill is ongoing and will take a while as the gorse can only be cut during the winter, outside the nesting bird season. Please be patient as the area will look a bit stark in the short term. Heavy vehicles will temporarily churn up some of the ground as the team pull up the gorse roots. They’ll also be burning the scrub in situ.
Nature will quickly embrace the space and you’ll soon see signs of the thriving, healthy and diverse habitat that Formby are aiming to create.
Caring for Formby’s woodlands
The woodlands at Formby provide important habitats for many rare species, including red squirrels. The team recently updated the plan to care for Formby's woodlands over the next 10 years, which has been approved by The Forestry Commission. We manage Formby’s woodlands sustainably and responsibly, meeting Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) and UK Woodland Assurance Scheme (UKWAS) standards.
We’re giving nature a helping hand to improve the health, species diversity and age structure of this precious habitat, in turn benefitting many species which live in the woodlands. This includes the iconic red squirrel as well as invertebrates, bats, birds and small mammals.
Plantation trees are 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 which limits wildlife.
Coastal change is squeezing habitats - natural coastal change is also 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, and this creates the habitats that rare species like sand lizards need. Trees on the border of the mobile dunes are also being suffocated by the sand and dying.
Our nature based solution - creating space and light with tried and tested conservation techniques will allow 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. The woodland management plan will help us to make these improvements that will bring many benefits to both wildlife and people who love to visit.
Dune corridors - The team are also enhancing the areas where woodlands and sand dunes meet. In 2022 we created dune corridors to make space for the sand dune habitat to grow and thrive by removing trees that were dead or dying due to the sand suffocating their roots. This will help these two special habitats coexist.
Some woodland management work can only take place in the winter months, such as tree thinning and scrub removal. However, there are other conservation tasks that can be done all year round such as invasive species removal, looking after young plantations and maintaining the huge network of paths across the woodlands.
We’re working with a dedicated woodland management volunteer group to help us achieve our ambitious plan. We meet weekly to tackle all this important work.
To find out more about how the team are planning to care for Formby’s woodlands download their information sheet click here.
Nurturing grasslands habitats
As part of the ongoing work to protect and care for special habitats, the team at Formby dedicate time each year to nurture 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 and slower-growing wildflowers to compete with the faster growing grasses for space and light.
Removing the cut grass, either through grazing sheep or by collecting cuttings after mowing, helps to lower nutrient levels in the soil. This benefits the rarer dune grassland flora over more common species such as nettle and thistle.
What to expect whilst work is carried out
There will be regular updates on Formby’s website and social media as work progresses, including information 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 the conservation work in certain areas.
Keeping up to date on our work
The team are committed to listening to and involving everyone who loves to visit in 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 social media and here on the website.
There will also be lots of opportunities for you to get involved through activities including ranger walk and talks and community drop-in sessions throughout the year.
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.
Finding solutions for nature and people
There's no quick fix to the challenges busy days can bring, but we know that collaborating with Sefton Coast Landscape partners and listening to feedback from visitors and the local community is the right approach to help us find solutions that work for both people and nature. Here’s just a few of the ways we’re improving your experience on busy days at Formby:
- Regular group meetings with Sefton Council, Merseyside Police, Merseyside Fire and Rescue, RNLI, The Coastguard, Natural England and Merseyrail to share information and plan ahead.
- Increasing awareness of car park capacity and how busy they can get.
- Signs to highlight when car parks are full and direct people to Lifeboat Road.
- Closing car parks when full, to stop queues and keep people safe on site.
- Promoting alternative destinations to explore nearby on busy days.
- Space line markings at Lifeboat Road to park more cars.
- Free designated parking for Blue Badge holders close to access paths.
- Portable toilets at Lifeboat Road for the summer season.
- Additional large bins in the car parks and more frequent emptying.
- Support from fantastic volunteers to help with the day to day running of the site.
- Seasonal staff to provide extra support on busy days.
Working with such a delicate and changing coastline like Formby is a challenge and it takes time to plan. This is to ensure anything we do helps protects this precious landscape for future generations.
Thank you for showing kindness and respect to nature and people when you visit Formby's nature haven. Together we can protect this special place so that it's here for everyone to enjoy, for ever.
Find out what's happening at Formby's nature haven and get involved. Together we can shape future plans to protect this precious landscape and the rare species that call it home.
Explore how a team of dedicated volunteers help to keep Formby moving through all seasons, how you can get involved and what’s in it for you.
Formby’s coastline is home to many rare species, two shipwrecks and prehistoric footprints. Can you spot a red squirrel in the trees or footprints on the shoreline?
Formby is steeped in history if you know where to look. Discover the history of Formby’s asparagus fields, prehistoric footprints and shipwrecks.
Horses are welcome at Formby. Find out all your need to know about riding your horse on the beach or through the woodlands.
Read about our strategy 'For everyone, for ever' here at the National Trust, which will take the organisation through to 2025.