Plantlife Cymru is about to undertake a major new project in Wales, including in Carmarthenshire.
In Wales sand dunes have become less open and more vegetated over the years. This means that the sand is less able to move about and has become stabilised. As a result that the young ‘pioneer’ open dune habitats and species have gone. Plantlife, however, through this project, is hoping to change all that.
The project, funded by WREN and Plantlife (through their Sow One Grow Ten appea)l, is managed by Plantlife in partnership with the Ministry of Defence, Carmarthenshire County Council, National Trust Wales, Natural Resources Wales and the Botanical Society of the British Isles.
The project at Carmarthen Bay aims to build on the work being carried out to increase the proportion of open sand habitats to this major Welsh dune system in South Wales. This will help support rare and vulnerable species of plants, fungi and invertebrates that use these pioneer dunes.
The project – the Carmarthen Bay Dunes Important Plant Area – will take place across Pembrey Burrows, Whiteford Burrows and Laugharne and Pendine Burrows, an area of estuaries, coastal lowlands, sand dunes and intertidal sand bars. Its location is home to a variety of vascular and lower plants and fungi, and includes some of the few sites in Wales where the fen orchid Liparis loeselii was once recorded and where petalwort Petalophyllum ralfsii occurs.
It is also where sea-buckthorn Hippophae rhamnoides, a spiny invasive shrub planted to help stabilise the dune systems, has now taken hold and forms dense thickets, and where conifers were planted at Pembrey and Whiteford. They stabilised the dunes and produced a mixture of pine forest and sand dune beside an expanse of beautiful beach.
What is also concerning is the fact that some of our duneland wildlife now numbers among our most threatened species.
Mosses such as cernuous bryum Bryum uliginosum, long-leaved thread moss Bryum neodamense and pear fruited bryum Bryum turbinatum are all now extinct in Britain. This is as a result of coastal developments, the stopping of grazing and through encroachment of scrub, which all reduce the availability of bare sand habitats.
The viability of populations of dune mosses and liverworts, such as petalwort and the dune bryums, are wholly dependent on the availability of bare sand for colonisation and are declining fast. The loss of bare sand habitat on Laugharne and Pendine Burrows is some 86% over the last 60 years, while at Whiteford Burrows on the Gower it is 76%. Petalwort prefers damp hollows, especially sand dune slacks, and is currently found at only 26 sites in the UK. The appearance of this species will be a key indicator in the return of habitat suitable for other rare species – for example, of the 459 specialist dune invertebrates on Welsh dunes, 295 species (64%) are dependent upon pioneer conditions.
It is a critical time to take action. In recent years, conservationists have recognised the problems of dune stabilisation and the decline in traditional management. However, we will continue to lose species unless we act to change dune management.
This project will help create larger area of open sand habitat and, therefore, opportunities for plants and invertebrates. This is what the Carmarthen Dunes project will be able to deliver over the next 3 years.