There are major challenges ahead for the conservation of habitats and species on the Sefton Coast. Above all there is a need to see the coast as an ecosystem and to coordinate the efforts of the land managers within the Sefton Coast Partnership which includes Sefton Council, National Trust, Natural England, RSPB and Lancashire Wildlife Trust and the Golf Courses, to name a few.
A nature conservation strategy was published in 2007 after 2 years of development and wide consultation.
The Sefton Coast Landscape Partnership is currently working on a new Sefton Coast Plan and revised Nature Conservation Strategy which will be going out to consultation in 2017.
Protected Site Designations
The special wildlife and habitats along with its spectacular landscapes are the reasons the Sefton Coast is given so many protective designations. Sefton Council, in managing its land for people as well as wildlife, is responsible for parts of the coast designated as a EU Special Protection Area under the Birds Directive or as a EU proposed Special Area of Conservation, under the Habitats Directive.
Together both of these designations identify the Sefton Coast as a 'Natura 2000' site and part of a much wider network of important European wildlife sites. Most of the coast is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) under UK law and as a 'Ramsar Site' under the 1970's international convention of the same name, which aims to protect important wetland sites and migrating shorebird populations.
There are 3 NNRs (National Nature Reserves) and 3 LNRs (Local Nature Reserves) within the Borough as well as a number of locally designated ‘Local Sites’. The Sefton Coast is also recognised for its geology and is designated as a SSSI for its important geomorphological features.
Each year thousands of people visit Sefton's coast and countryside sites, whether for a family day out or a quiet walk through the countryside. Wherever you are in Sefton you are never far from one of these sites, where you will find the wildlife and visitors existing side by side.
Managing for wildlife
The Sefton coastal dune system is recognised as valuable for coast protection, recreation and nature conservation and as such is highly protected as outlined above.
Sefton Council is responsible for managing a large part of this protected area. With so many pressures on the land, a balance has to be struck. We have an implicit duty to protect the features which make this area so special. Without intervention, specialist species and habitats which occur only on coastal dunes will inevitably be lost.
The dunes are particularly susceptible to overgrowth of vegetation as the natural processes which keep sand moving and dunes open are inhibited or affected by a number of factors: development (roads, houses, hard coast protection); nitrogen deposition from pollution;, climate change; coastal change and invasive non-native species.
Management involves a variety of tools and techniques to maintain or restore areas at the important early stages of succession. These include mechanical scrub clearance, scraping of vegetation, re-digging of scrapes and pools and positive visitor management.
In the longer term, grazing is considered to be the major management tool in the fight to control succession to scrub woodland and retain the diversity of the dune system.
Sefton’s Coast and Countryside Team introduced grazing as a management tool to the Ainsdale and Birkdale Sandhills Local Nature Reserve in 2000 following a scrub clearance project in the mid 1990’s. Since then, a flock of Herdwick sheep have grazed an area of fixed dunes in the ‘Ainsdale Hills’every winter.
Between 2011 and 2015 a major scrub management project was successfully completed on the ‘Birkdale Hills’ through the Heritage Lottery funded Sefton Coast Landscape Partnership Scheme. A Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement is now in place to support the ongoing conservation work on the LNR and deliver ‘favourable conservation status’. More information on condition status can be found on on Natural England’s web pages Designated Sites
Grazing has been extended across the LNR and there are now 3 fenced enclosures covering an area of approximately 100ha. Grazing takes place over winter between September and April. In addition to the Herdwick Sheep, the Team have been working with local graziers and Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Conservation Grazing Officer to supply suitable cattle. Most recently, rare breed Red Poll cattle from a farm in Cheshire have been providing their services. Over the summer they can be found grazing in Lunt Meadows and other reserves in the region.
Please remember to keep dogs on leads around livestock.
Monitoring and Review
The HLS agreement was reviewed in 2013. As well as the statutory SSSI condition monitoring undertaken by Natural England, a programme of vegetation monitoring has been set up. With the help of trained volunteers, the Team will be undertaking regular surveys over the next few years. A series of fixed monitoring transects plus a number of fenced ‘exclosures’ will be used to assess the progress of the management activities towards restoring / maintaining the dune habitat.