Protecting the dunes

NEW rope barriers are being installed on the dunes at Winterton to help preserve them from erosion caused by human beings as well as the sea.

And it is hoped the new fences put up by the Endure project will provide better protection for the seals, birds and other wild creatures that make the nature reserve their home.

Although the beach and dunes are growing to the north of the diamond sign, they have suffered badly in recent years around the car park and Dunes café.

Chunks of the dune cliff have been lost from the edge of the car park and tonnes of sand anchored by wartime tank traps arranged in front of the café have been washed away during winter storms and high tides. See our blog.

Sand repositioned with the kind permission of neighbouring landowners and in consultation with the borough council and Natural England has also been taken by the sea. 

In its latest update Endure, an international partnership led by Norfolk County Council, said: “Working with Natural England, the car park, café and local landowners, the project team hopes to work to mitigate the rapid erosion happening behind the sheds at Winterton car park.”

As well as post and rope fencing between the beach access at the diamond and the café, the team is installing new signage with the aim of educating visitors to the fact that the dunes host some of the rarest wildlife in the UK.

The owners of the car park said: “Having had no funding in our endeavour to retain the Dunes Cafe and car park against the erosion suffered from the sea, we are delighted to have been included in this project. It is highly important that visitors follow designated pathways down to the beach, for both their own safety and to minimise the damage done to the soft sand cliff faces.”

Endure project manager Alex Larter told the WoS website: “The Winterton Dunes National Nature Reserve is a very important dune site in Norfolk, it is what keeps the sea away from many villages and the Broads National Park.

“With social media’s rise in popularity has come an increase in wildlife visitors off season, coming for the seals for example. This has increased pressure on dunes at a time when there is already increased pressure from storms.”

He explained Winterton had two types of dunes - fore dunes that needed to be dynamic and grow with marram grass and acidic stabilised dunes behind them with different vegetation.

“They aren’t growing, therefore increased recreation is not necessarily a good thing. They should be habitats for rabbits but they have suffered greatly from diseases etc and other wildlife.

“They are susceptible to invasive species taking over and these often come lodged in visitors’ boots. At Winterton the grey dunes are a habitat for the very rare and protected adders and natterjack toads. You are not allowed to disturb the natterjacks by law, and the team at Natural England is doing a lot of work to restore their populations – added visitors means it is increasingly difficult to have remote/unspoilt areas for them.”

But although measures like boardwalks have been used in other parts of Europe to try to protect dunes they won’t be considered by Endure for Winterton.

Alex said: “They are not adaptable structures and Winterton has well established paths already that people can follow.

“The idea would be to have dynamic management of the sites, and we are working to measure impact of people and evolution of erosion using drones and satellite imagery.

“We are also working with leading coastal scientists in the Netherlands who are building a tool to monitor erosion and dune resilience/health. This combined with people counters, will enable us to track how efficient the dune management is, and how we can improve the protection and resilience of the area.”

But tourism is a major part of the local economy and balancing it with the need to protect the environment is a challenge. Alongside Endure there is another project looking at developing sustainable tourism.

“At Norfolk County Council, there is a big objective of growing Norfolk’s economy, and Tourism is 10 per cent of Norfolk’s GDP and growing each year,” said Alex.

“That’s why the environment team at Norfolk County Council is a partner in PROWAD-LINK, which I also manage, which looks at working with businesses to promote sustainable tourism and developing the nature-business-benefit-cycle - the idea that businesses benefit from the natural environment that surrounds them, and therefore could/should help protect this for future prosperity.

“We are also now lead partner for EXPERIENCE, the biggest ever Interreg tourism project, worth €5.9m for Norfolk. This project will look at off season sustainable tourism, and working on the last mile infrastructure.

“The project just launched recently and will be taking more and more importance in our work very soon. All these projects are linked. We know we are increasing visitors along the coast path and trails network, we hope to encourage people to walk and cycle to be healthier and experience Norfolk’s beauty. However it is our role to do this in a sustainable way to protect nature.”

Alex added that although the project would be encouraging people to keep their dogs on leads on the paths in the reserve north of the car park, it recognised the area was one of Norfolk’s favourite dog friendly destinations.

So the new signage would point dog owners towards the beach at the car park and south.

“The reason for this,” he said. “Is that during the year there are two very big wildlife seasons - the little terns and the seals. And these are north of the car park at the moment. Therefore it is easier to communicate about this with a clear separation. It will also help the efforts of the RSPB and the FOHS.

“We will be hosting events over the summer across Norfolk to raise awareness about the biodiversity of dunes, which is incredible, and we are organising an event at Winterton before seal season in October 2020.”

About Endure:

The €2.1m three-year project, part of the Interreg 2 Seas programme, has drawn together scientists, experts in natural risk management and coastal engineers in Norfolk, Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

It is co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and is intended to find ways of helping dunes to act as natural living and self-replenishing defences against rising sea levels.

It is also working with organisations like Natural England, The Friends of Horsey Seals,  the Environment Agency, the UEA and the Broads Authority in attempting to mitigate the impact human activity has had on what is described as a unique example of acidic dunes in the East of England. 

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