Gems in the Dunes was an exciting project led by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation under the wider HLF-funded ‘Back from the Brink’ partnership programme that ran from 2017 to 2021. The aim of the Back from the Brink programme was 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 home to a wide range of wildlife, including the rare Merseyside sand lizardnatterjack toad and northern dune tiger beetle. Along with the incredibly rare sea bryum, matted bryum and petalwort, these species have been identified as the six most vulnerable species. These became the target species for the Gems in the dunes project alongside a further 15 nationally scarce plants and animals.

Gems in the Dunes played an important conservation role on this special site, by ensuring that the unique and sensitive wildlife found on Sefton’s sand dunes will continue to thrive for many years to come.

The project worked with both professional contractors and volunteers to restored 4.5 hectares of dune slack habitat to enhance populations of Petalwort, Sea Bryum and Natterjack Toad. Volunteers working with the project cleared an amazing 32,000 m2 of scrub (the size of four football pitches), over 157 sessions. Works helped to create or enhance 289 bare sand patches that are essential for sand lizards to bask and lay their eggs in, and to allow northern dune tiger beetles to hunt and burrow. All in all, the project created a total of 11.5 hectares of mosaic habitat designed to help dune wildlife.

Working in partnership with other wildlife NGOs, our team of dedicated volunteers carried out a wide variety of tasks including important species monitoring and recording work that amounted to 373 days of individual survey time. Volunteer activities ranged from night-time natterjack toad counts, to day-time petalwort spotting and sand lizard surveys. These survey sessions established baseline numbers, and to enabled the project to understand how the wildlife was responding to the work being done.

Part of our public engagement and outreach programme included local schools in 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 were 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.

A lot of benefits were felt in the resulting collaboration that emerged from the project, as landowners, wildlife specialists, government bodies and volunteers were able to liaise over ongoing and future work affecting dune species. By facilitating discussions between interest groups, we have helped to maximise the benefits and reduce conflicts between different approaches to managing the dunes.

The legacy of this project holds strong as a core of experienced, enthusiastic volunteers who are committed to monitoring and advising on dune wildlife have developed. The project also helped to indicate where future work should focus on for example through recommendations for the Dynamic Dunescapes project.

Gems in the Dunes worked 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 also worked 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, improving habitat connectivity across the entire range, in order to prevent small populations of animals and plants becoming isolated and fragmented.