Coastal Sand Dunes

Coastal Sand Dunes - John Miller - Explore Kent

Current Status

Sand dunes form on the coast where there is an adequate supply of sediment and a beach which dries out at low tide, allowing the sand grains to be blown inland. A healthy dune system has a clearly zoned succession of habitats including embryo, mobile and fixed dunes, dune slacks and dune grassland or heath. Where the sediment supply is exhausted the fore-dunes disappear and the zonation of habitats can become very compressed, especially where the land behind the dunes is under pressure from other land-uses. Sand dunes are a diminishing habitat in Europe and are rare in the UK (47,118 ha). They are complex systems which are fragile and nearnatural in development. In Kent, the major formations are at Sandwich Bay and Romney Warren. The Kent Habitat Survey 2003 recorded 233 ha of coastal sand dunes, two thirds of which occur at Sandwich Bay. 80% (185 ha) of the habitat is notified as SSSI.

The dunes are important for the higher plants, invertebrates and wintering passerines which they support, including shore lark, snow bunting, twite, and Lapland bunting. 90% of the UK population of the nationally rare lizard orchid occurs at Sandwich Bay. The dunes also support the nationally rare bedstraw broomrape and the nationally scare sharp rush. Bright Wave and Restharrow are two rare moths associated with the sand dunes.


  • Fossilisation of dune systems through coastal defence works and coastal squeeze.
  • Sea-level change associated with climate change and isostatic rise.
  • Indirect loss through lack of grazing management and scrub development.
  • Changes in the water table affecting dune vegetation through increase or decrease in wetness.
  • Disturbance and erosion through recreational use and inappropriate management.

Current Action

*A survey of the sand dunes at Sandwich was carried out in 1989 and repeated in 2001. Significant changes in vegetation raised concerns about increasing water levels. Environment Agency data suggests that over the last ten years winters have been getting wetter while summers have been getting dryer, but more research on this issue is required. *The EA coastal defence strategy for Sandwich identifies the need for a barrier at Richborough to protect the town from flooding and the need to maintain the shingle beach north of Deal. A return to natural dynamics would increase the extent of dunes in the area, allowing retreat back to a new sea wall defence behind the fields which are currently mostly arable farmland.


  1. Maintain the extent of all coastal sand dunes site.

  2. Maintain under positive management 233 ha of coastal sand dunes 2026

Relevant Habitat Action Plans

The relevant UK Habitat Action Plans:

The relevant UK Species Action Plans: