Sand dunes

Main Features

Sand dunes are formed on the coast when waves
carry sand onto the shoreline and the wind blows it
into drifts. The sand gets trapped on plants such as
Sand Couch and Marram Grass and the embryo dunes
start to grow. Marram Grass is one of the most important
dune plants. It has long roots that grow down deeply in search
of water. These roots help to hold the dunes together.

Further inland the dunes are more stable and have lots of different
plants, mosses and lichens growing on them. There can even be a very
wet area. This is known as the ‘dune slack’ and rushes and reeds that like lots of water will grow here.

East Head 2009
East Head 2009

Sand dunes are a very important habitat. They are also a popular place for people to visit. However they are very fragile environment and changes can take place quickly. To protect the dunes plants from being trampled too much, special wooden paths called ‘boardwalks’ are put down for people to walk on.

East Head

East Head is a sand and shingle spit on the eastern side of the entrance to Chichester Harbour. It is the largest sand dune system in West Sussex. During the 18th century it pointed southwest into the Solent. It now points northwest into the harbour and its shape and direction are still changing. East Head is particularly important because is protects the rest of the Habour from greater erosion. If it disappears then the channels where boats can sail will also be affected.

There is some very interesting and important wildlife on East Head. The most widely growing plant is, of course, Marram Grass. Others that can be seen are Sea Holly, Sea Spurge, Sea Bindweed, Sea Rocket, Sea Sandwort, Sea Centaury, Prickly Saltwort, Yellow Horned Poppy and the rare Sea Knotgrass

Sand Lizard
Sand lizard  Lacerta agilis coyright Paul Edgar for HCT

Some birds like to nest in the dunes and the dune slack. These include the Ringed Plover, Skylark and Meadow Pipit. Waders like to roost on the saltmarsh that is sheltered by the spit and a Kestrel often hovers. Photo - kestrel

There are several scarce invertebrates living on East Head. These include the Long-winged Conehead (this is a cricket) and the tumbling flower beetle. If you walk to the north end of the spit you may be lucky enough to see the Silver Spiny Digger Wasp.

And somewhere in the dunes lurks the Sand Lizard…

for more information on the Sand Lizard look at The Herpetological Conservation Trust


Food Chain

food chain


Sand dunes are very fragile. During the winter they can suffer lots of erosion because of the strong winds, waves and stormy weather. Sometimes the wind causes huge holes in the young dunes. These are called ‘blow-outs’. Erosion can get worse if too many people trample on the plants in the dunes. The plants die off and can no longer trap the sand to create new dunes. East Head is in particular danger from erosion. The Hinge is so narrow that the sea could easily break through, as it has in the past, and make a new channel into the Harbour.


Species list

Marram Grass - Ammophila arenaria
Sand Couch - Elytrigia juncea
Sea Holly - Erynyium maritimum
Sea Spurge - Euphorbia paralias
Sea Bindweed - Calystegia soldarella
Sea Rocket - Honkenya peploides
Sea Rocket - Cakile maritima
Sea Sandwort - Honkenya peploides
Seaside Centaury - Centaurium littorale
Yellow Horned Poppy - Glaucium flavum
Sea Knotgrass - Polygonum maritimum
Prickly Saltwort - Salsola kali

Ringed Plover - Charadrius hiaticula
Skylark - Alauda arvensis
Meadow Pipit - Anthus pratensis
Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus

Shore Wainscot Moth Larvae - Mythimna litoralis
Long-winged Conehead - Conocephalus discolor
A tumbling flower Beetle - Mordellistena nanuloides
Pearl-bordered Fritillary Btterfly - Boloria euprosyne
Sand Dart Moth - Agrotis ripae
Silver Spiny Digger Wasp - Oxybelus argentatus

Sand Lizard - Lacerta agilis
Common Lizard - Lacerta vivipara


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Chichester Harbour Conservancy Education
Harbour Office, Itchenor, Chichester, PO20 7AW.   Tel: 01243 512 301