Dunes of the Fylde and Sefton Coasts

Two sand dune systems are present on the outer most parts of the Ribble Estuary. The dunes along the Sefton Coast, to the south, form one of the largest in Britain, whilst those fragments along the Fylde Coast, in the north, are but a remnant of their former size before the development of the coastal resorts of Blackpool and Lytham St Annes during the 19th Century. Both systems are highly valued because of the rich variety of flowering plants and invertebrates that they contain. Those along the Sefton Coast are also important because they support populations of the rare sand lizard and tiger beetles, along with large populations of natterjack toad. The toads breed in shallow pools (slacks) within the dune hollows. Other amphibians including great crested newts generally breed in more vegetated slacks further from the coast.

As a consequence the outer most parts of the Ribble Estuary are protected within three designated conservation areas: Ainsdale and Birkdale Hills Local Nature Reserve, Ainsdale Sand Dunes National Nature Reserve and Lytham St Annes Dunes Local Nature Reserve. All are designated as nationally important Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), whilst those at Ainsdale are of European importance too as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

Dunes develop where there is plenty of dry sand on the foreshore and where an onshore wind occurs. Sand continues to be blown inland and is trapped above the water line by dune-building grasses such as Sea Lyme grass, Marram grass and Sand Couch. Over time, the vegetation stabilises the sand and soil development and helps to make the dunes permanent fixtures. The plant life of the dunes can be extremely rich depending on soil type and hydrological conditions. The dunes of the Fylde and Sefton Coasts support over 450 species of plants including 33 that are locally scarce or regionally rare such as Petalwork, Seaside Centaury, Yellow Bartsia, Round -leaved Wintergreen, Dune Helleborine and Pendulous-flowered Helleborine.

The dune formations are so rich that on going conservation management is vital. Dune systems can outgrow themselves, loosing their vulenerable species in exchange for scrub and woodland habitats and also the creatures that flourish there. Similarly the increase of commercial, leisure and industrial activities in and around dune formations can cause their decline too. In either case conservation plays an important part in safeguarding and enhancing these important wildlife features of the coast for future generations.

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