Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Coastal dunes project

Posted by Andy Byfield, Plantlife's Landscape Conservation Manager

Work continues apace at Kenfig to reverse the fortunes of many rare plants that grow there.  Diggers are again on site scraping away coarse vegetation to reveal the all important sand below.  The reason that we – and our partners Bridgend County Borough Council and the Countryside Council for Wales – are doing this is simple: over the millennia our rarer sand dune plants and animals have evolved to cope with the vagaries of ever-shifting sand, yet these days, our dunes have become cloaked by a thick, lush thatch of plant life.  The result: classic species such as petalwort, fen orchid and many other beautiful plants are declining fast, and some are steadily heading towards extinction.

The fen orchid.  Image © Tim Pankhurst
Britain’s sand dunes seem to be changing, as the high hills of blowing sand have ‘greened-over’.  Various factors may be to blame.  Increasing deposition of nitrates and other nutrients are being deposited across our lands as the rains bring industrial and agricultural pollutants back down to earth, feeding coarse vegetation.  There seems to be less sand off shore to feed mobile dunes.  And one can’t help thinking that this year’s excessive rains have simply allowed lush vegetation to become lusher still.

Last year, Plantlife coordinated the clearance of over three hectares of dunescape in the hope of exposing sufficient bare sand to kick-start natural duneland erosion, an as I write this the diggers are in expanding the area to a vast 10 hectares – by far the largest example of sand dune rejuvenation ever undertaken in Britain.

And not surprisingly, the media have been  keen to find out just what is going on.  I have just returned from filming a forthcoming BBC Countryfile item about our work with Matt Baker and his team from the BBC.  If you want to know more, tune into BBC One this coming Sunday evening (27th January).

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