Tuesday 19th June saw a large party of us (volunteers) creating a new “dune scrape” in the dunes north of Ainsdale beach.  A dune scrape is where a wet hollow is created in the dunes, with the intention of providing a habitat for species such as Natterjack Toads and Petalwort, amongst others. 

On the day it was great to be working with many DWP personnel, who were taking part in a volunteering day - many hands make light work!  However, there is nothing light about digging out Sea Buckthorn and Creeping Willow, where their delicate stems and flowers belie the long thick roots beneath.  I could have filled the hollow merely from the sweat off my brow, I even managed to break a spade!

However, it is surprisingly satisfying and enjoyable, particularly seeing the results of all the hard work -  as water bubbled up from the water table below.  It will be fascinating to monitor what new guests may move in over the next year or two.  Fiona and Andrew (project leader and project officer respectively for Gems in the Dunes) were kind enough to bring along even more motivation, in the form of custard creams!

As part of the Natterjack Toad monitoring group, I (alongside fellow team members, Des and Frank) found several of the pools full of Common Toadlets, with little sign of Natterjacks. This was slightly disappointing as there were an encouraging number of spawn strings around at the start of the season.  It is likely that the recent dry, hot weather hasn’t helped -  with the pools shrinking fast. The life cycle of Natterjacks means that they also spawn later in the season than many other amphibians, so they hadn’t developed into a toadlet stage in time to escape the disappearing pools.  This was in contract to the Common Toadlets, which were so numerous it was difficult not to stand on them.

In a bold and brave rescue attempt (!), three weeks ago, Des and I translocated several Natterjack tadpoles from a couple of disappearing pools into two different pools, with more water.  However, there is little sign of those tadpoles now.  We later noticed that there were quite a few Newts (Common and Great Crested) in one of those pools, who probably saw our brave efforts as a meal service.  But, undaunted, our monitoring and optimism continues tomorrow (Thursday 21st June).

Some of the other volunteers are monitoring different species, including the beautiful Sand Lizard, Tiger Beetle and Petalwort.  The last (Petalwort) is interesting and some people love monitoring it - Petalwort is very important to the project.  The monitoring involves crawling through wet ground on your hands and knees looking for and recording this tiny plant. Important work – but not for everyone!

I have found that volunteering with Gems in the Dunes has been a wonderful experience.  Conservation work was new to me and I didn’t really know what to expect.  One thing I’ve found is that all that talk about working in the outdoors being good for you is actually true.  I’m certainly much fitter than I was and also in a better state of mind, and where better to do this work than the wonderful Sefton Coast Dunes?  I have also met some great people - which this old, miserable po-faced introverted, cynical Scot is surprised to be saying.  I have learned an incredible amount, although I still have a long way to go. This was reinforced recently when on a guided walk, with Dr Phil Smith, who announced, just when I thought I could recognise an Evening Primrose, that there were 50 species of the damned thing!  Hey ho.  Onwards and upwards.


(Volunteer for Gems in the Dunes Project)

Would you like to help and take part? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
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  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.