The Lytham Sandhills or Dunes
By Sarah Kellam
There is extensive and ancient sand-dune habitat along the coast at Lytham St Annes covering about eighty hectares between Starr Gate in the north and Lytham in the south. Here, there is a wide variety of rare plants and wildlife communities. Some of the plants are so rare they are not found outside the United Kingdom. The habitat also supports lizards and rare birds, insects and butterflies.
Dunes are formed by plants trapping and binding dry, wind-blown sand. As the dunes enlarge, the Marram Grass (Starr Grass) takes hold and the dunes become more stable. The grass can tolerate the dry, salty conditions. Marram Grass is well known for its long roots and dune stabilisation properties. As the dunes age they are host to heathland vegetation, which can develop into dense clumps of scrub with willows also growing there. Dune ‘slacks’ between the dune ridges in damp, low-lying areas are particularly rich in plant species.
Today, the dunes provide a recreational resource to the local residents and tourists, as they did in the nineteenth century, but are vulnerable to invasive plant species as well as to whatever the weather and the sea throws at them.
Since the 1600s the dunes have been protected with fines for anyone collecting the Marram Grass for thatch. Marram Grass planting was actively encouraged. Grazing by animals helped establish the stronger plants and weed out the weaker ones that shouldn’t be present. Removing prolific growth from the most vigorous plants reduces competition and acts as a sort of weeding out process. The grazing animals were anything from the rabbit to the cow, the sheep, the horse and the donkey. Large areas were maintained as rabbit warrens as we know. At the beginning of the twentieth century pine trees – which can still be seen – were planted to help stabilise the dunes. Dune heath vegetation has low productivity and its own special management problems. It needs to be grazed, cut or burned to maintain the successful regeneration of the main species, but too much could lead to species-poor, acidic grassland.
A unique and treasured terrain if ever there was one!
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