Duddon Dunes IPA
Location: On the Cumbrian coastline, the dunes lie round the Duddon Estuary, at the southwest tip of Cumbria, between the Furness Peninsula and Millom, to the north of Barrow-in-Furness.
Grid Reference: SD 180 787
On the south western edge of Cumbria the River Duddon flows into the open expanse of its estuary and splits into several channels that weave their way between mudflats and sand bars before entering the Irish Sea
Around the estuary lies a diverse coastal habitat of spectacular sand dunes, dune slacks and salt marshes that is constantly changing in response to tides and winds. Sand dunes form where dry sand is regularly blown towards land from the beach and is deposited above the high-tide mark. It can then be trapped by specialised dune-building grasses (e.g. marram), before eventually being colonised by other plants that help to stabilise the sand and ‘fix’ the dune. The dune formation here is strongly influenced by the prevailing westerly winds which help to create a series of large ridges separated by wetter ‘slacks’.
As you move inland you pass through various zones: mobile and semi-fixed dunes are followed by fixed grassland, dunes and scrub. Sand dune systems can support an extremely diverse range of plants and provide a habitat for a variety of specially adapted species, including a number of uncommon plants and fungi.
Large parts of the IPA are National Nature Reserves. Those at the north and south of Walney Island are a botanist’s delight with over 450 species of flowering plants recorded at the North Walney reserve, many of which are specialist species that cannot survive elsewhere.
In the spring you can see flowering thrift, and later, in the dry dunes, look out for the rare dune helleborine, seaside centaury, coralroot orchid and the unique Walney geranium, a variety of bloody cranesbill which grows nowhere else in the world. On the beach the shingle plays host to some rare and specialist species too. Look out for the striking yellow horned poppies flowering in mid-summer, prickly sea holly and bushes of succulent sea kale together with viper’s bugloss, sea campion and henbane. Small areas of dune grassland survive with pyramidal orchid, Portland spurge, restharrow and wild pansy. The salt marsh and dune heath add a splash of colour to the landscape in late summer as the sea lavender, sea aster and heather come into flower.
The Sandscale Haws National Nature Reserve at the north of the IPA is one of the most botanically rich coastal sites in the UK with over 600 recorded species. Scarce plants found in the dune slacks here include marsh and dune helleborines, northern marsh, bee and coral root orchids, grass of Parnassus and round-leaved wintergreen. Low-growing sea holly is common, and you may spot the delicate dune pansy.
Image: Duddon Dunes © Paul Glendell, Natural England