The sand dunes on the Sefton Coast are home to some rare and diverse wildlife but they also provide people with a spectacular landscape for walking, relaxing, exercising and playing. Many enjoy the 22 miles of coastline, whilst not knowing much about it, but they are often surprised when they find out more.

Gems in the Dunes Project manager Fiona Sunners talks about working with volunteers on the project and what has been gained:

One of our aims in the Gems in the Dunes project has been to help people discover, learn  and get involved with activity on the  dunes, so since the start of the project in 2017, the team have been running activities for people including, guided walks, talks, family and school events, practical tasks and training.

Over 100 people have volunteered so far, while helping their local environment and getting to know it better. They have been helping to improve the sand dunes and make it more suitable for many species, in particular sand lizards, natterjack toads, northern dune tiger beetles, petalwort, sea bryum and matted bryum – which are some of England’s rarest species. Volunteers have been working along the length of the coast with our partners at Natural England, National Trust, Lancashire Wildlife Trust, Altcar Training Camp and Sefton Council, on tasks such as scrub removal and pool rejuvenation. This can be tough physical work, but many enjoy this and return time after time, saying they are feeling fitter as a result of taking part – although biscuit consumption may add to the feel good factor! There’s a sense of satisfaction too, when they see an area covered in dense scrub, transformed back to bare sand after their hard work.

It’s not all about getting physical.  The survey and monitoring is another important aspect of field work that volunteers have been getting involved with. Before the project started, petalwort existed  at only four locations with just 100 plants counted. Since volunteers have been returning the landscape back to its natural state the team have identified over 2000 plants at 15 locations. Time has played a big part in these finds as volunteer surveys have taken place over weeks rather than days, often with two or three individuals searching. Before embarking on any of our surveys volunteers have attended training courses to improve their knowledge and understanding of each of the species involved. This is key, as some of the species; natterjack toad and sand lizard, require a licence to survey them so training is compulsory. Volunteers have found the surveys most satisfying, expressing their excitement when spotting their first sand lizards.

For many if not all, volunteering is a social activity, a chance to meet and chat with like-minded people, and work towards a common goal. Many find is a good excuse to get out and enjoy the benefits of being outdoors and being surrounded by nature, as well as learning about some very special wildlife – oh and don’t forget the biscuits!

The data collected is helping us get a better idea of how the species are doing, as well as helping to plan further habitat improvement works. All the work the volunteers are carrying out is incredibly valuable, and is most appreciated not only by the Gems in the Dunes team part of the Amphibian & Reptile Conservation, but also by all the landowners on the coast too.

Gems in the Dunes is one of 19 projects in the Back from the Brink programme, which has been made possible with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Post lockdown, surveys are now being undertaken with habitat management to resume in the following weeks. To find out more visit the Gems in the Dunes project page.