Sand Dunes

LIFE+ Projects





The EU LIFE Programme

Providing funding for the conservation of dune habitats and species

Since its launch in 1992 the EU LIFE programme for the environment has supported many projects across Europe addressing dune conservation. Funding is guaranteed until 2020 through adoption of a new LIFE regulation. There are changes, however, as climate change is now included as a major sub-programme and there is support for larger, regional scale, integrated projects. Bids for LIFE-Nature projects have also to be supported by priorities set out in Prioritised Action Frameworks for Natura 2000 prepared by Member States. The new regulation and all information on the LIFE programme, the projects and publications can be found at

Information on projects can be found by searching the LIFE project database and using search terms to identify projects by year, country or habitat type. More than 40 dune projects have been supported through the LIFE-Nature strand.

The LIFE database also gives links to project websites and publications including summary or layman’s reports.

The LIFE programme publishes reviews of projects by theme. The most recent publication on coasts include some examples of dune projects from around Europe.

In this section of the website you will find an introduction to some LIFE projects. The section will be updated every year to add new projects. If you wish to make contact with any projects an address is given on the LIFE database.

A review of the contribution of LIFE projects to the conservation of the dunes of the Atlantic Biogeographical Region was presented at the conference Dunes and Estuaries 2005. The paper is available at

Houston, J. (2005). The conservation of sand dunes in the Atlantic Biogeographical Region: the contribution of the LIFE programme, in: Herrier, J.-L. et al. (Ed.) (2005). Proceedings 'Dunes and Estuaries 2005': International Conference on nature restoration practices in European coastal habitats, Koksijde, Belgium 19-23 September 2005. VLIZ Special Publication, 19: pp. 29-44


Projects in Northern and Western Europe


New LIFE for Danish dunes

Project Reference: LIFE12NAT/DK/001073

Following the success of a 2002 LIFE project (LIFE02NAT/DK/008584 ) the Danish Nature Agency began a second project in 2013. The project ‘Restoration of Danish Coastal Habitats’ operates on 11,140 ha along the 400 km west coastline of Denmark, the only habitat in Denmark where forest is not the natural climax vegetation.  The habitat mosaic includes well-preserved fixed dune vegetation and humid dune slacks. The project areas are threatened, however, by a lack of natural dynamic processes and the invasion of coniferous species, the target of the earlier project. Other threats include the fragmentation of habitats and loss of breeding and foraging areas for key species.

The project is improving the conservation status of the coastal dune habitats, is reducing the threats to the plant species Ligusticum scothicum and Calystegia soldanella  and is improving the conditions for a range of animal species, including Natterjack Toad, Sand Lizard, birds and invertebrates.

Expected results include the removal of invasive species including Japanese Rose Rosa rugosa from 10 -100 ha ( a report in Danish is available on the project website), improvement of hydrological conditions, protection of breeding birds and removal of over 100 ha of plantation woodland to allow a return of fixed dunes and humid dune slacks habitats. The removal of commercial plantations in the open coastal dune habitats will also reduce habitat fragmentation.

Restoration of wetlands in dune habitats

Project Reference: LIFE13NAT/DK/001357

The Danish Nature Agency began another project in 2014 aimed at the ‘Restoration of wetlands in dune habitats’. The focus is on the 30 km long Skagen Odde, one of the largest areas of grey dunes and dune heath in Denmark. The project focus on habitat types 2130 ‘grey dunes’, 2140 decalcified fixed dunes and 2190 humid dune slacks. The objectives are to address all the threats to two Natura 2000 sites by restoring natural hydrological conditions in dune slacks, removal of tree encroachment and specific actions for tackling the invasive species Rosa rugosa and Heracleum mantegazzianum. Some mosaic burning will also be used. Information at 



SandLIFE-restoration of sandy soils in southern Sweden

Project Reference: LIFE11NAT/SE/000849

In Sweden a project started in 2012 to address the conservation of coastal and inland dunes in the southern counties. In many parts of the region the sandy-soil habitats are living remnants of a traditional lifestyle and historical landscape.  In the 18th century, most of the woodlands and trees were removed, leading to wind erosion and massive sand drift. Many of the forests now growing in these areas were replanted to remedy the problem. Abandonment of traditional farming has led to invasion by trees, scrub and coarse grassland.  The project will address problems on 23 Natura 2000 areas (3,350 ha) on sandy soils in southern Sweden using tried and tested restoration techniques, including the removal of conifer plantations (Pinus mugo and Pinus nigra), creation of bare sand and removal of invasive Japanese Rose Rosa rugosa and management of heather.  The project will have an active aware raising programme to inform local people about the value of the work.

The expected results are improved habitat condition, creation of new areas of habitat and a focus on the flora, fauna and fungi of open sand areas. Actual targets are: woodland clearance (316 ha); creation of bare sand areas (391 ha); management of encroachment (139 ha); removal of invasive Japanese rose (26 ha); and management of heather (26 ha). The project will publish a manual on the management of sandy-soil habitats and will disseminate its results and recommendations to a European audience. Further information on



Light and Fire LIFE

Project Reference: LIFE13NAT/FI/000099

An interesting project started in Finland in 2014. This is called the ‘Light and Fire’ project and aims to address the conservation of habitats which require fire (several forest types) but also those that require light (and heat). Sand dunes fall into this second category. The description of the project is that the flora and fauna in light and fire environments have adapted to dryness, high levels of radiation from the sun, high temperatures and sharp fluctuations in temperature, as well as sparse sources of food. Of interest to dune managers is that the project will address problems of Rosa rugosa, which smothers the ground and reduces the fluctuations in heat and light necessary for these habitats. Information can be found at


United Kingdom and Ireland

Scottish Machair

Project Reference: LIFE08NAT/UK/000204

The Machair LIFE project ran from 2011 to 2014 and demonstrated that traditional crofting practices in western Scotland can secure a sustainable future for the machair. It was managed by RSPB in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the Scottish Crofting Federation. The project aims were to secure and improve the conservation status of 70% of the world's machair habitat and its associated species by implementing and demonstrating sustainable management methods that optimise the conservation interest and are compatible with local crofting practices.

The project worked on three SACs and ten SPAs covering 23,766 ha. It aimed to bring 3,200 ha of machair habitat into favourable condition and improve the conservation status of the Birds Directive Annex 1 species corncrake chough, dunlin and ringed plover.

The project focused on reinforcing good practice in the agricultural management of the culturally important machair. And in turn this will continue to support the unique biodiversity of these regions. The projects actions include promoting late harvesting on arable machair, introducing best practice techniques and demonstrating these to the crofting community and increasing the capacity of these communities to help manage the interests of the Natura 2000 sites. Information on the project can be found at



Dutch Coastal Dunes

Project Reference: LIFE05NAT/NL/000124

Between 2005 and 2010, over €6m was invested through EU LIFE funding and project partners to ‘rejuvenate’ dune habitats along the Dutch coast. The Dutch State Forestry Service (Staatsbosbeheer) worked with other provincial partners to realise the goals of creating more varied habitats and dynamic landscapes.

The projects involved removing topsoil, scrub and trees as well as initiating grazing in many areas. Importantly, at several of the locations intervention was at a more complex level of dune management addressing hydrological issues. In the Wadden Sea, an internationally important site for migrating birds and a UNESCO world heritage site projects took place on Texel, Terschelling and Vlieland.

On Texel, former agricultural land was transformed into dune habitat by removing topsoil and removing ditches to allow water to follow more natural pathways and raising groundwater levels in slacks. On Terschelling, pine woods were removed while hardy goats tackled dense scrub to allow rabbits to create ideal conditions for rare plants. The hydrology was tackled allowing water levels to be raised in slacks and simultaneously solving the problem of flooded cellars.

The island of Vlieland was historically heavily grazed and the decline in grazing together with acid rain and atmospheric nitrogen deposition has led to the ‘grassification’ of dune habitats. Topsoil and grass was removed and dune slack habitats were created before a new grazing regime was initiated. On the island of Schouwen in the delta region a more natural transition between forest, polder and dunes was sought. Removing trees and creating notches in the forest has allowed the dunes to drift further inland where they can be seen from the polders. A re-think of infrastructure such as paths, roads and a campsite focused recreational activities in one part of the island leaving large areas for nature to develop.

In Hollands Duin, an area near the border of North and South Holland, effectively managing recreation during the project was essential as the area receives two million visits a year. Here, slacks were created in some dune valleys while others containing scrub were intentionally left for migrating birds. The layman’s report (in English) details all of these projects and has some stunning before and after photographs. It is available from the Staatsbosbeheer website at 

Amsterdam Dunes - Source for Nature

Project Reference: LIFE11 NAT/NL/000776

The aim of the project is to restore and improve the priority habitat types which form part of the Kennemerland Zuid Natura 2000 site. Habitat recovery is being encouraged by actions targeting the effects of desiccation and eutrophication, such as the removal of nitrogen-rich soils and invasive species, restoration of ponds, and mowing, grazing, and other nature management measures.

Specific aims are the expansion and improvement in quality for the dune habitat types 2130  ‘grey dunes’, 2160 ‘thickets of sea buckthorn’ and 2190 ‘humid dune slacks’. Targeted species include the whorl snail (H1014), mottled white-faced darter (H1042) and fen orchid (H1903).

The 3400 ha area is owned by the Municipality of Amsterdam. The main land uses are nature conservation, drinking water supply and recreation.  Since 1850 the habitats deteriorated in size and quality by desiccation from water extraction and by acidification and eutrophication from air pollution. This led to grass and shrub encroachment and accumulation of nitrogen-rich organic matter in the topsoil. In recent decades, these negative environmental impacts have decreased but to stimulate the recovery of nature it is necessary to remove the nitrogen-rich top layer of soil and carry out other nature management measures, such as tackling the recent expansion of invasive Prunus serotina (black cherry).  Project implementation will focus on the removal of vegetation and soil organic matter to begin the process of recovery.

Actions include:

  • The mowing of vegetation and the removal of organic material in the dune valleys
  • Turf stripping to remove the organic top soil layer in dune slacks and dune grassland
  • Excavation of old blow-outs
  • Grubbing up and removal of shrubs and trees, especially Prunus serotina
  • Turfing over former thickets of Prunus serotina including the seed bank
  • Rehabilitation of ponds by cutting bank vegetation and by dredging and removing mud

These measures will require follow-up management including the use of additional sheep grazing and a monitoring programme to record the baseline situation and the situation after completion of the measures. The overall result will be the rehabilitation of 235 ha of priority fixed dune habitat, 98 of dunes with sea buckthorn and 17 ha of dune slacks.  Project details (in Dutch) can be found at:

Meeting of the experts

A number of experts in dune management from six countries took part in a two day workshop and excursion organised by Waternet (Amsterdam Watersupply Dunes) as part of the project.  The meeting was an opportunity for the project managers to assess whether their approaches to dune restoration were feasible and justified. The results of the discussions are published in a report which includes the following points of interest:

  • Grey dunes habitats are under threat mainly due to grass and shrub encroachment. A surplus of nitrogen deposition is an important factor.
  • Rabbit grazing plays an important role in the recovery of the grey dunes. However, their populations are very variable and, therefore, not reliable.
  • Shallow sod cutting is an effective management technique when applied on a small-scale in grass and shrub encroached habitats.
  • Destabilisation of dune systems through the creation of new blow-outs can be an effective management tool. It can generate areas of bare sand helping to rejuvenate the landscape.
  • Conifer plantations should be removed (including stumps and litter layer) to restore open dune habitat and landscape value. Clear communication is important to make people understand the benefits arising from this restoration measure.
  • To control invasive Prunus serotina the complete removal of roots and seed bank is required to prevent re-establishment. Although the strategy is supported, the operational area is sometimes too restricted, especially when it has to avoid damaging surrounding vegetation such as Sea buckthorn. In this case small scale scraping and encouraging dynamics may sufficiently increase biodiversity.

The report is available at

Revitalising the Noordduinen, The Netherlands

Project Reference: LIFE09NAT/NL/000417

The Noordduinen is a narrow band of dunes on the Dutch mainland lying between Callantsoog and Den Helder within the Natura 2000 site Duinen Den Helder Callantsoog where over 50% of the site is notified for grey dune habitat. It was formerly used as a military training area for anti-aircraft guns and tanks, as well as for agriculture and water extraction.  The layman’s report of this LIFE project, led by NGO Stichting Landschap Noord-Holland, describes the removal of military infrastructure to restore dunes, turf stripping to rejuvenate wet meadows and slacks and combating the problem of invasive Japanese Rose Rosa rugosa.

The removal of the concrete infrastructure of the military base was completed as planned but it exposed such a large area of bare sand that there were problems with sandblow. This was brought under control by the application of straw mulched into the surface, a common-used technique in the Netherlands (also by farmers in the bulb fields) and preferable to using fences to control drift. Once the risk of large scale sand blow was removed small areas of straw were removed to encourage localised blowouts. Reed screens and Marram planting was used to form low dunes which would in time become grey dunes. The project has shown that it is possible to accommodate open dunes near housing and road infrastructure by taking a cautious and small scale approach to the remobilisation.

Sod-cutting was used to rejuvenate wet dune meadows by removing nutrient rich upper layers and lowering the overall surface to restore humid slack conditions. Because of the coast protection concerns in the Netherlands it was not allowed to remove the material from the site, instead it was used to create a new line of dunes to the east of the site.

The project tried to find the best method to combat the spread of Japanese Rose which covers c. 6 ha of the grey dunes.  It proved difficult to find an effective method and a combination of mowing, cutting and herbicide application was used to weaken and eventually kill the plant. However, there was local concern about the use of herbicides.  A meeting of experts from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and the UK was held on 28th June 2013 in Callantsoog on the problems of invasive woody species in European dunes. Rosa rugosa, an Asiatic species, is salt tolerant and its roots can penetrate to 2.5 m so it is hardly affected by drought. In Noorduinen the plant was spreading at 5% a year, from 1-2% of land cover in 2005 to 2-3% of land cover in 2013.

In trials the best results were obtained by cutting before the middle of March and treatment of young leaves with Triclopyr. This has to be repeated. The result of the trial was 100% success but when used more widely in 2012 the success rate was only about 50% perhaps due to weather conditions and the time between cutting and spraying.  Some of the methods used to control Rosa rugosa include:

  • Grazing with Highland cattle, sheep and goats
  • Continuation of herbicide treatment
  • Covering with plastic to suffocate the roots
  • Digging out the entire plant including the roots
  • Prevention of any new planting for amenity

One of the views expressed in the report is that it is better to try to stop a new invasive species than anticipating the outcome of research and having to restore larger areas. Field experience and research should go hand in hand.  Sharing knowledge is also essential and can help avoid expensive mistakes.

Information on the project including the report of the meeting of 28th June 2013 on invasive, non-native species can be found in the ‘English’ section at The layman’s report is available at

Dutch dune revival: dune habitat restoration at three dune sites

Project Reference: LIFE09NAT/NL/000418

The project, led by NGO Natuurmonumenten with support of the Provincial Waterworks of North Holland (PWN), took place from 2010-2015 in the Natura 2000 sites of Voornes Duin, Duinen Goeree & Kwade Hoek and Kennemerland-Zuid.

In the three areas the objective of the project is to set back succession to an earlier stage to create good conditions for the development of species rich grey dunes and white dunes, as well as humid dune slacks. Recent decades have seen the development of scrub, forest and rank grassland. After removal of this vegetation, the areas will be mown and /or grazed to maintain habitat condition. At Kennemerland-Zuid sand will be removed at five sites near to the sea to create active mobile dunes and conditions for the development of new dune slacks.

The project will lead to the restoration of 115 ha of grey dune, 22ha of dune slack, and over 15ha of mobile dunes and improvements to wider areas. Exotic shrubs will be removed to improve the quality of 640 ha of dune forest, grey dunes and dunes with Hippophaë rhamnoides.

Further information by Marten Annema

Natuurmonumenten manages 2,200 ha of dunes in the Dutch delta where the area of dune scrub and woodland has increased enormously over the last 50 years; from 10% cover in 1950 to 90% cover by 2005. At first the development of scrub was gradually and was of interest in terms of habitat succession but this laissez-faire approach has given rise to a significant conservation challenge. A new target has been set to reduce the scrub and woodland to 40% cover by 2018.

Plans for scrub removal prioritise the removal of scrub on white and grey dunes including tall Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) scrub, removal of aspen (Populus tremula), excavation of slacks and removal of humus and removal of young woods. The restoration plans, however, spare old woods, species rich scrub, Sea Buckthorn scrub in good condition, refuges for species such as sand lizard and the snail Vertigo angustior, vulnerable pioneer species and humus from dry habitats.

Techniques being employed include mowing (using cut and collect equipment), scrub cutting (with a flail mower on a tractor or tracked vehicle collecting arisings), clearing of woods (flail mower or Hymac and making use of chipped material for fuel), sod cutting (by Hymac and transporting soil outside site or burying it in the frontal dunes under 1-2 m of sand) and stimulating sand blow by removing seaward scrub and creating sand blow funnels. It is expected that the follow up with grazing and additional mowing will take 10 years to fulfil the aim of recreating grey dunes and white dunes.

Before 2012 93 ha of the area was treated for 1.7 m€ (18,280€/ha) and the plan for 2012-2016, as part of the LIFE+ project, is to treat 70ha for 1.2 m€ (17,143€/ha). These costs include follow up for c. 3 years with funding from local government and the EU LIFE+ programme. See



LIFE FLANDRE- Flemish and North French Dunes Restoration

Project Reference: LIFE12NAT/BE/000631

The project aims to consolidate the Natura 2000 network by actions to recover populations of target species and to restore characteristic dune habitats.  It will achieve this by land purchase, management planning, habitat restoration, awareness raising activity and by strengthening cooperation between Belgian and French public authorities. The project will draw up a cross border management plan with a legal basis for transnational cooperation for the management of the dunes as a European natural park.

In Belgium the project will purchase 30 ha of dunes and prepare management plans for 93 ha of dunes purchased by the Agency for Nature and Forests between 2005 and 2010 across five sites which will be established as Flemish nature reserves. Restoration work will focus on humid dune slack habitat including the creation of aquatic habitat for Great -crested Newt Triturus cristatus and Natterjack Toad Epidalea calamita.

In France the project will purchase 58 ha of dunes to be added to the existing sites Dune Dewulf, Dune Marchand, Dune du Perroquet and Dune fossile de Ghyvelde. Restoration work will focus on 65 ha of humid dune slacks and grey dunes, improving the habitat of the Narrow-mouthed Whorl Snail Vertigo angustior and also providing habitat for Great-crested Newt and Natterjack Toad. New footpaths will also be created to reduce the negative impact of uncontrolled access.

The project will improve ecological cohesion and connectivity of the network of dune sites on both sides of the border and increase public awareness of the natural heritage value of this fragile dune area. Project information is at

Zwin Tidal Area Restoration

Project Reference: LIFE09NAT/BE/000413

The ZTAR LIFE project aims to improve the habitats of the Zwin tidal salt marsh and dune complex in Belgium with 125 ha of tidal saltwater lagoon, gullies and salt marshes, 55 ha of sand dunes and tidal sandy beach and a further 27 ha in the Netherlands. The project international congress in September 2015 will share experiences on the management of dunes and estuaries.

The ZTAR project has several actions including creating more aquatic habitat for Natterjack Toad, restoring a number of islands in the lagoon used by breeding birds such as Common Tern Sterna hirundo and Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta, re-establishing grazing on marshes and dunes, restoring the tidal flows in to the Zwin gully and rejuvenating the salt marsh by removing a layer of silt and sea couch grass to allow pioneer plants to return.

The main problem affecting the Zwin has been the gradual filling up of the lagoon with sediment probably originating from erosion of the sandy beach and fore-dunes, so that the loss of biodiversity is an example of coastal squeeze as a consequence of climate change. More information, including a flyer in English, can be found at


Projects in Southern Europe



Project Reference: LIFE05NAT/IT/000037

The Migliarino San Rossore Massaciuccoli Regional Park was founded in 1979 to protect 12,500 ha of natural and semi-natural coastal environment. Dune systems make up only 228 ha (1%) of the Park territory, but there is a concentration of human pressure on this small area.

The Tuscan dunes have been seriously degraded by infrastructure developments, re-forestation, tourism and invasive alien species. The work of the project provided a strategy for planning the conservation of biodiver­sity, resources and ecosystem services.

The objectives achieved included a decrease in the presence of the alien Yucca gloriosa by 80ha; over 13ha of coastal wetlands have been restored and there has been an increase in the annual permanence of fresh water. The communication strategy has shown how it is possible to achieve positive results for nature conservation even in areas heavily frequented by man.

The project prepared a detailed book of the project activity (in Italian) and also a layman’s report in both Italian and English. Reports are available at

Safeguard and management of south-western Sardinian dunes (SOSS DUNES LIFE)

Project Reference: LIFE13NAT/IT/00103

The dunes of south western Sardinia are suffering from high visitor pressure, resulting in degradation of habitats, including the priority habitat 2250 Coastal dunes with Juniperus spp. The threats include uncontrolled visitor and vehicle access to the dunes, a lack of awareness of the importance of dune habitats and a lack of planning and management. The three year project will address these threats through practical actions and through the development of long-term plans.

Providune - Conservation and recovery of dune habitats in the sites of the Provinces of Cagliari, Matera and Caserta

Project Reference: LIFE07NAT/IT/000519

The project, funded by Community Fund LIFE + Nature and Biodiversity aims at protecting the priority habitat consisting of coastal dunes with Juniperus ssp., which is one of the most endangered habitats in the EU, in the following SCI (Sites of Community Importance) - See more at:

The project comprises the following types of actions: Preparatory: collection of botanical and sedimentary data (on coastal and dune erosion processes). Conservation: actions to preserve the plants in dune habitats, bio-engineering schemes to protect the habitat, creation of pedestrian walkways and vehicle parking areas to regulate access etc. Awareness-raising and dissemination of results: education and information targeting tourists, schools and all stakeholders.