Sands of Time Title
This site provides detailed information on the sand dunes of the Sefton coast in North West England
Home Page
Coastal Change
A History
  Physical Forces
Growth & Erosion
Future Change
Managing Change
Primary Succession
Model of Succession
The Strand Line
Embryo Dunes
Mobile Dunes
Blow Outs
Semi-fixed Dunes
Fixed Dunes
Dune Slacks
Dune Heath
Vegetation/Soil Data
Studying Succession
Pine Plantations
Project Objectives
Project Partners
Project Funding
Related Links
Fixed Dunes

When the vegetation has developed so that it forms a more or less complete cover of the substrate, the dunes are said to be 'fixed'. Although conditions for plant growth are considerably better than at the start of the succession, the fixed dunes still represent a stressful environment. The pH is still very high, drought is a problem and nutrients may still be in very short supply. In addition to these abiotic factors, the dunes may be affected by grazing or trampling. A thin, brown, organic layer has, however started to form at the surface of the soil. If the dunes are grazed, for example by rabbits or by the sheep on Ainsdale Sand Dunes National Nature Reserve, a fixed dune grassland will develop. The most important grass is often Festuca rubra. Together with a number of flowering plants, mosses and lichens, fixed dune grassland can be a very species-rich vegetation type. Species such as

  •  Ladies bedstraw Galium verum  Wild thyme Thymus polytrichus
  •  Harebell Campanula rotundifolia

are typical of this vegetation. Marram still persists in the grassland. Because of the lack of grazing, this vegetation type has been quite uncommon on the Sefton Coast. In recent years grazing by domestic stock has been re-introduced to the Ainsdale area and rabbit populations are now more healthy again. Grazing also encourages blowouts which are essential in maintaining the dynamics of the dunes. Many of the specialist plants and animals of the dune system require the bare sand environment provided by blowouts.

Species-rich fixed dune grassland
Species-rich fixed dune grassland
Herdwick sheep grazing the dunes at Ainsdale
Herdwick sheep grazing the dunes at Ainsdale

On the Sefton Coast, as with other dune systems in North West Europe the rabbit population was severely affected by a disease called myxomatosis which was introduced in the 1950s. The absence of grazing pressure caused by the loss of rabbits allowed a different type of fixed dune vegetation to develop. Large coarse grasses and a woody plant

  •  Creeping Willow Salix repens

became dominant. Creeping Willow is able to outcompete the smaller, slower growing plants that are specially adapted to survive the grazing and environmental pressures of the species-rich fixed dune grasslands. The resulting vegetation type has a higher biomass, has less species than the dune grassland and contains species which are more common and widespread elsewhere, for example

  •  False oats Arrhenatherum elatius

Under the Creeping Willow the surface organic layer of the soil builds up more rapidly. In many places the lack of grazing pressure allowed the establishment of tall woody plants to form scrub. The high biomass of these fixed dune vegetation types makes blowouts far less likely and the dunes start become much more stable.

Creeping Willow and coarse grasses
Fixed dune vegetation dominated by Creeping Willow
and coarse grasses such as False Oats


For more information about this project email at Liverpool Hope University.
  Go to the site of Liverpool Hope University    

Liverpool Hope University worked with English Nature and the
Sefton Coast Partnership to implement the Sands of Time project.