Carmarthen Bay Dunes, Carmarthenshire

Stretching around the curve of Carmarthen Bay from Gower in the east to Tenby in the west, the vast sand dune systems along this coastline are home to some 250 species of flowering plants, nearly 20% of the entire Welsh flora.

These dunes, with their tall dunes divided by deep and damp hollows, are exceptionally rich in wonderful plants. Towards the sea, young mobile dunes with shifting sand are home to Sea Stock (Matthiola sinuata) and Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis), while older fixed dunes can be covered with Common Restharrow (Ononis spinosa) and Wild Pansy (Viola tricolor subsp. curtisii). The damp low-lying slacks abound with orchids, such as Marsh Helleborine (Epipactis palustris), as well as rarer plants like Variegated Horsetail (Equisetum variegatum) and Dune Gentian (Gentianella uliginosa). In Carmarthen Bay, several of these globally significant dunes (Pendine & Laugharne and Pembrey) are recognised as Important Plant Areas.

But these dune systems are under serious threat. Large areas have become dominated by thick grass and shrubs, especially invasive Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), and conifer plantations now cover many areas, destroying the open sand habitat that many plants and invertebrates need to thrive. Some plants, such as Fen Orchid (Liparis loeselii) and dune mosses have already been lost.

Without action, more rarities will become extinct here. The Carmarthen Bay Dunes project aims to restore their fortunes.

Our goals:

  • Remove 80 hectares areas of invasive non-native Sea Buckthorn
  • Remove some areas of Corsican pine and Monterey Pine plantation from priority areas for native wildflowers
  • Restore 8 hectares of open sand habitat by excavating thick vegetation and allowing wind to move sand around again
  • Allow the special coastal flowers and invertebrates to flourish again by providing the habitats they need.

Under threat:

Fen Orchid (Liparis loeselii)

The rare dune form of this internationally protected orchid is now found only at Kenfig. It was lost from Whiteford Burrows in 2004 and Laugharne Burrows in 2002, with the right management we hope it will return. Numbers at Kenfig [link] are increasing as a result of the restoration work we're doing there.

Sea Stock (Matthiola sinuata)

This beautiful plant produces rosettes of grey-green leaves and wonderful night-scented flowers. It a rare plant of the most exposed parts of the dunes, rooting down into the shifting sands, and is found only in the Channel Islands, north Devon and along the south Wales coast, where just two dozen sites are currently known (photo © Jean Tosti under Creative Commons License).

Petalwort (Petallophyllum ralfsii)

This remarkable little liverwort thrives on damp bare sand, the leaf rosettes folding up when dry. It has declined at many sites as they've become over-grown with vegetation but can return quickly once the open sand has been exposed again (photo © Trevor Dines)

How's it going?

2015 & 2016

Funding is secured from WREN to undertake major work at four dune sites: Laugharne & Pendine Burrows, Pembrey Burrows and Whiteford Burrows.

Over the winter of 2015 & 2016, work begins to clear 80 hectares of invasive Sea Buckthorn from the dunes, such as here at Pembrey (photo © Simeon Jones).

Who are we working with?

The National Trust (landowner)

The MOD (landowner)

Carmarthenshire County Council

WREN FCC Biodiversity Action Fund (grant provider)

Natural Resources Wales

Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland