THE public is being invited to join discussions to launch a West Sands Users’ Group for the award-winning beach in St Andrews, the most visited free recreational space in Fife.
It follows support from councillors on the north east Fife area committee for a management plan which will protect the natural environment and define how the area is managed now and in the future.
It will also take into account the financial and environmental challenges which lie ahead.
The West Sands dunes system is part of the larger Eden Estuary SSSI and of a world-class landscape and a diverse coastal ecosystem. However, there are many competing pressures from different users.
The West Sands Partnership was formed in 2010 - it is chaired by St Andrews Councillor Robin Waterston - to bring together all of the organisations with an interest in the beach to plan for its long term sustainable management. The Partnership includes Fife Council, the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust, St Andrews University, St Andrews Links Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, who together drafted the draft management plan.
It came under scrutiny at two public meetings and involved consultations with all the partners, as well as Marine Scotland, recreational organisations using the area and elected members.
A report before councillors, which highlighted the proposed vision, development and implementation of the management plan through to 2025, explained that the challenge was to ensure the international destination continued to be well planned and managed sustainably.
In the report, Grant Ward, head of Fife Council’s leisure and cultural services, said: ”Competing pressures from a variety of users will increase as visitor numbers grow, demographics change and interests shift. The area is also confronted with an immediate and growing threat - the effects of climate change - and the West Sands are highly vulnerable to flooding and coastal erosion.”
Councillor Waterston told the Citizen: ”The West Sands is a treasure that is easy to take for granted.
‘‘I myself have been enjoying it since 1948, but only in the last few years have I appreciated how delicate the ecosystem is and how vulnerable to damage by visitors and recreational users, as well as by natural forces.
‘‘The dune system, in particular, is an essential element of the protection of the links, but needs to be actively maintained and cared for. The excellent restoration work to the large dune by the Swilcan Burn after the severe storm damage in 2010 is an example of what can be required.
“The newly-approved management plan is designed to provide a framework of policy and principle which can be used by all responsible agencies as well as by users of the West Sands, and help to promote coordinated protection measures.”
A public meeting will take place at 7pm on February 22 in St Andrews Burgh Chambers for all those who enjoy the West Sands and other interested parties.
Its purpose is to promote understanding of the ecology of the area, and to facilitate communication and discussion among the various users and recreational groups. The idea of forming a West Sands Users’ Group will be discussed and among the speakers will be Alison Irvine, the council’s access officer.