Gems in the Dunes is an exciting new project led by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation under the wider HLF-funded ‘Back from the Brink’ partnership programme. The aim of the programme is to bring 20 key species back from the brink of extinction and improve the fortunes of a further 200 plants and animals found here in the UK.

The Sefton Coast is the largest undeveloped dune system in the UK, with over 22 miles of sand dunes. It is also home to a wide range of wildlife, including the rare Merseyside sand lizard, natterjack toad and northern dune tiger beetle.  Along with the incredibly rare sea bryum, matted bryum and petalwort, these have been identified as the six most vulnerable species that this very special Back from the Brink project is targeting; alongside a further 15 nationally scarce plants and animals. It is envisaged that Gems in the Dunes will play a very important conservation role in this special place, by ensuring that the unique and sensitive wildlife found on Sefton’s sand dunes will continue to thrive for many years to come.

Gems in the Dunes is delighted to be working with a range of project partners, including: Natural England, Sefton Council, National Trust, Altcar Rifle Range, Lancashire Wildlife Trust, North Merseyside Amphibian and Reptile Group (NMARG), Buglife and Plantlife. We are especially grateful to Sefton Council for hosting our project.

Gems in the Dunes will also be working with Hillside Golf Club, Hesketh Golf Club and Southport and Ainsdale Golf Club to create important habitat for the coastline’s rare wildlife in popular, recreational areas. This will also improve habitat connectivity across the entire range, which is important to prevent small populations of animals and plants becoming isolated and fragmented.

To achieve these ambitious outputs, the project is working with both professional contractors and volunteers. We have commissioned a number of specialist contractors to undertake major habitat management works including rehabilitating natterjack breeding pools which are also home to the rare plants and mosses. Works will also include removing scrub and vegetation to create the bare sand patches that are essential  for the sand lizards to bask and lay their eggs in, and to allow northern dune tiger beetles to hunt and burrow.

Working in partnership with other wildlife NGOs, our team of dedicated volunteers are carrying out a wide variety of tasks including important species monitoring and recording work. Volunteer activities are extremely varied and range from night-time natterjack toad counts, to day-time petalwort spotting and sand lizard surveys. These survey sessions are vital to establish baseline numbers, and to enable the project to understand how the wildlife is responding to the work being done.

Volunteers also assist with the habitat management works in areas that are too sensitive for large machinery. These include removing  heavily invasive sea buckthorn and Japanese rose from the dunes to create  bare patches of sand for the sand lizards and natterjacks to thrive in.  

As part of our public engagement and outreach programme we are also working with local schools to deliver exciting activities such as parent-child conservation days. We hope that these will help nurture the next generation of conservationists for the Sefton Coast! Alongside these child-focussed activities, there will be a broad range of events for people from all backgrounds including wildlife walks and talks, such as evening natural history talks and very special night-time natterjack walks.

For more information about the project and upcoming events and to find out how to volunteer with Gems in the Dunes please contact the team directly at [email protected] or call 01704 571575.