The wild edge of the Irish Sea

The loss and degradation of grassland habitats is playing its part in the decline of the skylark in the UK. Image by Stefan Johansson

Fire has devastated Lytham St Annes Local Nature Reserve, usually a wild and untamed corner of our coast.

It really saddened me this week as I drove along Clifton Drive North, past the fire-scarred Lytham St Annes Local Nature Reserve.

We lost something in the region of 20 per cent of the nature reserve during the fire in early July. That means a lot of creatures and plants were probably killed and it will take some time for it to return to provide habitat for birds, insects and amphibians.

If you look at plants in the dunes there are more than 280 vascular plant species, including several internationally rare plants, including the yellow-flowered Isle of Man cabbage. More than 150 species of butterflies and moths have been recorded there as well as lots of other insects. The dunes are also home to ground-nesting birds like stonechats, skylarks and reed buntings.

So you can understand my sadness at the damage, seemingly caused by a careless barbecue party.

The St Annes sand dunes blackened by fire

The sand dunes of Lytham St Annes after the devastating fire. Photo Credit: Amy Pennington

I have helped in burying Christmas trees in front of the dunes between Lytham and Blackpool. This recycling project involved placing trees – collected by the fantastic Fylde Council coast and conservation team – in trenches in the ground. The trees stick a couple of feet up and catch sand as the tides roars in on stormy days.

This protects the sand dunes which, in turn, protect properties and roads behind them. It is also creating new dunes to add to this coastal defence.

The protected dunes are smooth as you approach them, held together by marram and other suitable grasses, rising up to more than 50 feet. They are backed by other dunes in the network, towering above the homes they are safeguarding and shielding beach walkers from the view of urban Lytham. 

The unprotected dunes are dramatically different. The stormy waters and winds have eroded them and removed sand stretching almost 20 metres to the sea. Compared to the protected dunes these look like steep cliff faces and need urgent attention.

I do spend some time on this dramatic coast, where only the hardy wander in winter. The wind and rain can sometimes take your breath away but this is nature in the raw – and wildlife comes flocking in to appreciate it.

A sanderling paddling through the wet mud at the shoreline

Photo Credit: Neil Aldridge

Groups of scampering sanderling take great pleasure in leading me on a merry dance and waiting just outside of my camera lens range before flying away another 20 metres or so. They are often found along the tideline looking for small shellfish, fish and jellyfish. They make the place look busy and are an absolute delight as they scuttle along and probe the sand for food.

If the gales are too fierce you can find a path through the dunes and settle there to relax. On dry days these are havens and the difference in temperature away from the sea front is remarkable. 

As you lie back on the ‘memory foam’ sand you can watch birds flying above your head. Gulls and crows criss-cross the dunes looking for natural food – and any waste left by litterbugs.

Wildlife spends the winter here recharging its batteries, shielded from humanity’s boot prints by the sand, grasses and shrubs. And let’s not forget the weather, which buffets, batters and drenches visitors on the beaches and on the dunes. 

Many of us welcome this costal workout, affording an opportunity to meet and greet the windswept nature as we breeze along the edge of the fabulous Irish Sea.

A wonderful way to celebrate the wonders of the Irish Sea is to join one of our marine events taking place along our coast. Click the button below to find your nearest one.

View all events