West Sands staging recovery after storm

West Sands. Picutre by Louise Stenhouse
West Sands. Picutre by Louise Stenhouse

The dunes at St Andrews West Sands are recovering well after the storms of 2010, which highlighted the severe coastal erosion and flooding of the West Sands.

The effects of a storm surge at the same time as a particularly high tide were felt not only at West Sands but also over the Links courses, adjacent farmland and along large stretches of the north east coast of Scotland.

Now, though, the dunes, part of the Eden Estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the Firth of Tay and Eden Estuary Special Area of Conservation, are recovering with new dune-forming plants present for the first time in several years.

A survey by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has shown that a management programme has helped the dunes with access managed, sensitive paths closed off, boardwalks and signed dune paths, providing access to the beach from the car park.

Mechanical cleaning of the beach has also stopped, replaced by manual litter picking.

The seaweed left behind allows sand to build up and sand dune plants to colonise and expand seawards.

Plants are vital for the dunes – they help keep the sand in place, so the dunes can shift but aren’t blown away and eroded.

The majority of the Out Head section is now closed to vehicles and managed in a more sensitive way, with a conservation grazing herd provided by local farmer, Robert Dewey.

This has led to additional benefits for nature, with birds such as ringed plover breeding successfully for the first time in decades.

But the work to save the dunes goes back even further. In 2010, a large-scale dune restoration project was completed at the Swilcan section, with tens of thousands of tonnes of sand used to re-profile the dunes.

Local volunteers provided their time to replant this section under the supervision of Fife Coast and Countryside Trust’s (FCCT) Ranald Strachan, he explained: “The entire length of the dunes, almost two kilometres to Out Head, has been fenced off and dune grasses planted in some of the more exposed areas.

“This is thanks to the efforts of The Links Trust, the FCCT, the wider partnership and the community.

“Thanks also to the St Andrews Community Fund and Fife Council’s transportation services. And without the understanding and efforts of beach users and volunteers during the planting phases, the improvements would not have been possible.”

Gavin Johnson, operations officer with SNH said: “We were delighted to discover the dunes are recovering so well. This is thanks to the hard work of a partnership made up of local councillors, conservation bodies including SNH and the University of St Andrews. We’d like to thank all our partners for working hard with us over the last five years to restore and protect the West Sands dunes.”

Unfortunately, in recent weeks there have been incidents that have caused damage to the dunes.

It is believed that small fires or stray fireworks led to a significant area of dunes being burnt.

Fires and fireworks are normally prohibited on West Sands and permission should be sought from Fife Council.

Fife Coast and Countryside Trust recently published a West Sands Charter, a helpful guide on how to enjoy the beach recreationally and responsibly.

A copy is available by the main boardwalk or on their website.

And the West Sands partnership is still hard at work concentrating on managing blowouts, or big holes, in the dunes.

FCCT has secured a licence to take sand from the beach at low tide to link the edges of blowouts together. This will allow sand to build behind them and the dunes to repair themselves.

This is already happening in some of the smaller blowouts, thanks to the dune fencing and grass planting efforts. The Links Trust will be carrying out these works in early 2016.

The West Sands Partnership was formed in 2010 and comprises representatives of Fife Council, The Links Trust, FCCT, Scottish Natural Heritage and The University of St Andrews.