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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.
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.
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
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. 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 theSand Lizard…
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.