ARC's Gems in the Dune Project Manager, Fiona Sunners tells us more about one of the projects key species, the often overlooked, tiny and very rare Sea Bryum.

Down beneath your feet, often unnoticed are some of the rarest species in the country! Sea Bryum is one of them – a member of the bryophyte family; it enjoys the open sandy conditions of newly forming sand dunes. Unfortunately, the amount of this habitat is reducing; as a result of this numbers are declining too.

In 2013, a survey found Sea Bryum along a 2.5km stretch of the ‘green beach’ between Ainsdale and Birkdale, however as the newly formed dunes and pools become more vegetated and fixed, conditions change and become more unsuitable meaning these tiny plants are out-competed. During the Gems in the Dunes project we have been working with volunteers to get a better picture of how widespread they actually are. So far we have found Sea Bryum is now confined to a 370m stretch at the southern end of the ‘green beach’, and even over the short time the project has been running we have seen increasing amounts of vegetation pushing them southwards and reducing their range. Careful future management could help them, for example scraping off the top layer of dense vegetation can open the landscape up enough to allow them to recolonise from spores that have lain buried in the sand. Volunteers observed this in an area that was scraped before the project started. The scraped areas can also benefit other species such as the Natterjack Toads.

It’s not all doom and gloom though as this year we have recorded Sea Bryum at the southern end of the ‘green beach’, in an area that last year was pretty much still the beach. Spores have obviously been blown southwards landing in this more suitable habitat, and made the most of the open damp conditions. We have also recorded an expanse of them around one of the Natterjack breeding pools, slightly inland of the ‘green beach’ – watch out they are spreading!

The only other place on the coast they are found is at Devil’s Hole in Formby. Here a small colony remains, although as the vegetation increases here too, we could very well see it disappear very soon.

Sea Bryum is not the easiest to identify, but a few key features do distinguish it from the other bryums on the coast – take a look at our species identification sheets.

We have also been on the lookout for another bryum species - however this is proving to be a bit of a tall order! All we have to go on is the last record from way back in 1933, which was in Freshfield and doesn’t even pin point the sand dunes! If you fancy having a look for Bryum Calophyllum, take a look at our species guide for its key feature.

If you think you have spotted either of our bryums, get on your hands and knees and take a picture and send it with a grid reference or screenshot of your location to  Make sure your photos are as clear as possible as this will help us to identify it!


Fiona Sunners - Project Officer

Gems in the Dunes


 Would you like to help these incredible species? 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.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.