DUNE BUGS
BBC Wildlife|August 2021
Corrugated sand spanning some 20km fringes the Sefton Coast in Merseyside. It’s the UK’s largest undeveloped dune system – bustling with rare insects, reptiles and amphibians – and is the focus of a major conservation project.
Paul Bloomfield

At first glance, sand can seem a harsh, inhospitable environment – yet dunes are teeming with life. Those flanking the Sefton Coast host a diverse community of rare and beautiful species, including this iridescent northern dune tiger beetle photographed by Alex Hyde while documenting the Gems in the Dunes project, part of the wider Back from the Brink conservation programme. “These ultra-predators are just berserk – speedy and tricky to photograph,” he recalls. “They’ll charge anything that moves.” Habitat restoration work at Sefton – home to Britain’s largest northern dune tiger beetle population – included the creation of open sand patches for such animals to bask on and burrow in.

The setting sun gilds the grasses crowning Sefton’s dunes, signalling a changing of the guard: diurnal species retreat into burrows, while their nocturnal counterparts emerge to feed and mate. “Each morning, little half-moon holes in the slopes reveal where tiger beetles left their burrows,” says Alex, “and tiny tracks spidering the dunes – footprints of insects, sand lizards, natterjack toads – write stories into the sand.” Protection of this habitat, much of which has been destroyed across Britain, is vital; on the Sefton Coast alone, some 81 per cent of bare sand has gone since 1945.

Photography can be challenging in the dunes, where invertebrates such as this sand bear spider are camouflaged against the speckled grains – “when they’re not dashing off to hunt like greased lightning”, adds Alex. This is another species benefiting from habitat management by the Gems in the Dunes team: volunteers clear scrub and create bare sand.

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