As the project comes to a close ARC's Gems in the Dune Project Manager, Fiona Sunners reflects on four successful years saving species on the Sefton Coast

Since July 2017, we have been running the Gems in the Dunes project on the Sefton Coast as part of the wider Back from the Brink programme, which has been made possible with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The aim of the project has been to help save some of England’s rarest wildlife from extinction, and involve people in the process. Our target species were natterjack toad, sand lizard, northern dune tiger beetle, petalwort, sea bryum and matted bryum, all sand dune specialist and declining as a result of dune succession.

Natterjack toad by Alex Hyde Sand lizard by Alex Hyde Dune tiger beatle by Alex Hyde Petalwort by Fiona Sunners Bryum warneum by Des Callaghan

Activity has been a mix of habitat improvements and surveying, working with contractors and volunteers. Our volunteers have been amazing, clearing over 32,000m2 of scrub (the size of four football pitches!), creating and rejuvenating 289 sand patches and improving 11 pools.

Scrub clearance before (left) and after (right) - achieved with help from volunteers by Fiona Sunners 

We’ve co-ordinated 870 days of survey effort, ensuring all natterjack breeding pools are now regularly monitored, and with more eyes looking more often, we have more sand lizard records.

At our recent coastal change workshop, these data combined with data from coastal engineers provided an insight into how species will be affected by habitat loss as a result of coastal change. We discussed what needs to be done to safeguard the species for the future as sea levels rise.

Over 200 people have attended events out on the sand dunes, at local shows and museums and more recently online. Activities have included guided walks, slide shows, mini-beast hunts, family scrub removal days and arts and creative writing workshops. Our hugely successful art and creative writing workshops have engaged with people who wouldn’t normally attend traditional events such as guided walks. You can watch some of the online workshops via our YouTube channel.

Fiona during survey for natterjack toads with volunteers 
by Alex Hyde
Project Officer Andrew Hampson during guided walk at Altcar
by Fiona Sunners

Overall the project has had a very positive effect, raising awareness and increasing involvement as well as providing more data on distribution and abundance. Management works have increased the amount of suitable habitat including bare sand and improved connectivity between pools.

The project will hopefully be the starting point for more much needed habitat work and engagement in the future to benefit these incredible dune species.