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European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency
News article23 June 20213 min read

Strengthening Europe’s sand dunes

Sand dunes are an important habitat for rare plants and wildlife. They also protect against erosion, flooding and storm damage.  


But with one in seven EU citizens living near the coast, many sand dunes are being damaged especially in the summer months.  

The EU is keen to restore coastal and inland sand dunes through measures in the Birds and Habitats Directives and the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.  

Likewise, since 1992, more than 300 LIFE projects have been helping to revive Europe’s coastal habitats, including sand dunes. 

The first edition of World Sand Dune Day is taking place this Friday. It aims to underline the importance and beauty of sand dunes. To mark the occasion, here is a selection of LIFE projects working to safeguard our dunes. 

Cows to the rescue 

Pärnu is a major beach resort in Estonia, attracting around 10 000 visitors a day during the summer. Beside the beach are 250 hectares of boreal coastal meadows, lagoons and dunes. But these habitats were neglected after grazing and reed cutting stopped.

The URBANCOWS team turned things around by restoring 226 hectares of these coastal meadows and dunes, as well as 75 hectares of coastal lagoons. They reintroduced cattle grazing to clear reeds and bushes, and raised much awareness among locals, tourists and businesses on the importance of the protected areas.  They also built a visitor centre, two observation towers and a nature trail. 

An unwelcome rose 

Denmark’s west coast is home to a unique area of coastal dunes. But these dunes are in danger from the invasive Japanese rose and there is a lack of breeding and foraging areas for birds. 

To help matters, the REDCOHA-LIFE team firstly removed 42 hectares of the Japanese rose themselves but also with the help of goats and sheep. They went on to build some shallow streams to restore wet dune slacks and to improve conditions for amphibians. Also, they constructed six islands which were colonised by ground-nesting birds.  

Saving an Irish grassland 

Machair is a type of coastal dune grassland found along the western coasts of Scotland and Ireland. Intensive agricultural methods have damaged this rare habitat and its associated species, like the Corncrake and Chough. 

The Irish LIFE Aran project’s measures included introducing cattle and sheep grazing, applying seaweed as fertiliser, controlling rabbit populations and cutting back invasive bracken. While much work remains to be done, Ireland’s machair habitat has improved thanks to the project. 

Sandy soil gets a makeover 

Sandy soil peppered with flowers and fauna is a sight to behold. In southern Sweden, however, this habitat has been devastated by planting, overgrowth, cultivation and overgrazing.

The SandLIFE team restored 23 sandy Natura 2000 sites in the coastal areas of Skåne, Halland and Kalmar. They cleared woodland, opened-up bare sand areas, removed invasive alien species and cut away heather. They also erected fencing and organised burning events together with local residents. The sand lizard, woodlark, large blue butterfly and plants like the sea holly and wild thyme have made a welcome comeback.

Making dunes healthy again  

Healthy sand dunes are biodiversity hotspots with orchids, toads, birds and lizards in abundance. But some dunes have become covered by grass and scrub which have over-stabilised the sand. Also, invasive alien species sometimes overpower the native ones, negatively impacting biodiversity.

World Sand Dune Day co-organisers Dynamic Dunescapes and Sands of LIFE are restoring sand dunes for the benefit of wildlife, people and communities. The Dynamic Dunescapes team is using pioneering conservation techniques to rejuvenate the dunes in England and Wales. Meanwhile, partners in the Sands of LIFE project have set out to restore over 2 400 hectares of sand dunes on 10 Welsh Natura 2000 sites.

Image: LIFE12 NAT/DK/001073 - REDCOHA-LIFE - All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.


Publication date
23 June 2021