West Beach Local Nature Reserve
Title: West Beach Local Nature Reserve
Description: A local nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest, a conservation area on the west bank of the River Arun at Littlehampton has been created in order to preserve the dunes and its rare plants.
Address: Rope Walk, , Littlehampton, West Sussex
One of fifty or so active sand dune systems in the country, the example found on Littlehampton's West Beach is home for over 230 species of wild plants, 21 of which are either local or national rarities. Also recorded are the sightings of some 205 species of wild birds.
Normally occurring on the western and eastern coasts of Britain, only 6 sets of dunes can be found on the south coast from Cornwall to Kent, with two of these located in Sussex (one on the West Beach and the other at the mouth of Chichester Harbour at East Head). Covering only 0.2% of the land area of the UK (the woodlands in West Sussex alone cover 15%), they occur only when perfect conditions for their formation and growth exist.
In areas where there are large expanses of sandy foreshore exposed at low tide, strong prevailing winds can lift the drying sand and carry it inland. If there is an obstruction to the wind on the edge of the beach that suitably reduces the wind speed, then the sand particles will be deposited there and the dune can begin to grow. Some salt tolerant plants such as Sea Rocket and Sea Kale will start to colonise the area. As the size of the dune begins to develop, other species of plants (grasses such as Sea Couch) begin to bind the surface together. The grasses and plants that start to colonise also have the effect of trapping further sand, 'growing out' of the sand as it accumulates. As conditions improve, the dominant dune building grass, Marram, is able to colonise further, allowing stability and the creation of more favourable conditions for other plants. As the distance of the dune from the sea increases, so does the diversity of the plant life.
Within the relatively few British sand dune systems that exist, a large number of native plant species can be found: 25% of the total number of species of flowering plants, several hundred species of algae, fungi, mosses and lichens all exist within the undulating surface. The dunes also act as important habitats for a multitude of insects and attract many migratory birds as a wintering or stop-over site. This results in a particularly high scientific and conservation value for the dunes.
Sand dunes are inherently unstable, held together by fragile vegetation cover. The pressure of human recreational activities causes severe damage to the dunes, making the area vulnerable to wind erosion, which, if not controlled, can cause a severe breakdown in the system, and eventually complete destruction.
Due to the advances of modern agriculture, the West Beach Sand Dunes act as a natural refuge to many of its inhabitants, and in 1980 the dunes were designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside act of 1949 by the Nature Conservancy Council. In 1985 the area was also registered under The Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.