Journal of Coastal Conservation

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 473–482 | Cite as

Dynamic coastal dune spit: the impact of morphological change on dune slacks at Whiteford Burrows, South Wales, UK

  • N. S. Robins
  • K. Pye
  • H. Wallace


Whiteford Burrows is a coastal dune spit wetland in South Wales that is susceptible to morphological change. The height of the ridge of groundwater within the sand aquifer is essentially proportional to the width of the spit. The water table elevation impacts both the frequency and duration of slack flooding events and, therefore, slack ecology. A severe late winter storm event on 17 March 1995 caused extensive erosion of the foreshore, reducing the effective width of the dune system by 4 % and the water table elevation by up to 1 m. This observed relationship allows water level elevations in the dune system to be hindcast using historical maps and air photos which record past change in dune morphology. These historical data indicate that the dunes were relatively broad in the nineteenth century and the slacks were humid and liable to regular winter flooding. The system slowly dried out towards the 1940s as the spit thinned, when subsequent widening allowed the water table to rise and once again flood slack floors in winter. Despite these changes, the alkalinity of the Whiteford Burrows dune system has inhibited organic matter accumulation and maintained conditions needed for the persistence of a diverse basiphilous vegetation assemblage in many of the slacks.


Sand dune Morphology Water table Change Ecohydrology 



The authors are grateful to both Countryside Council for Wales and the Natural Environment Research Council for supporting morphological and hydrological investigations at Whiteford Burrows. The local support of Nick Edwards and Gareth Dockerty, from Countryside Council for Wales, has been invaluable particularly in data gathering activities. Simon Blott of KPAL is also thanked for GIS assistance.


  1. Busenberg E, Plummer LN (2000) Dating young groundwater with sulphur hexafluoride: natural and anthropogenic sources of sulfur hexafluoride. Water Resour Res 36:3011–3030CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Clarke D, Sanitwong Na A (2010) Predicted effects of climate change, vegetation and tree cover on dune slack habitats at Ainsdale on the Sefton Coast, UK. J Coast Conserv 14:115–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Curreli A, Wallace H, Freeman C, Hollingham M, Stratford C, Johnson H, Jones L (2013) Eco-hydrological requirements of dune slack vegetation and the implications of climate change. Sci Total Environ 443:910–919CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Davy AJ, Grootjans AP, Hiscock K, Petersen J (2006) Development of eco-hydrological guidelines for dune habitats – phase 1. Engl Nat Rep (Number 696)Google Scholar
  5. Davy AJ, Hiscock KM, Jones MLM, Low R, Robins, NS, Stratford C (2010) Ecohydrological guidelines for wet dune habitats – phase 2. Environ Agency UK RepGoogle Scholar
  6. Ernst WHO, Slings QL, Stuyfzand PJ (1996) Pedogenesis in coastal wet dune slacks after sod-cutting in relation to revegetation. Plant Soil 180:219–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Grootjans AP, Hendriksam P, Engelmoer M, Westhoff V (1988) Vegetation dynamics in a wet dune slack I. rare species declie on the Waddenisland of Schiermonnigoog in the Netherlands. Acta Bot Neerlandica 37:265–278Google Scholar
  8. Grootjans AP, Hartog PS, Fresco LFM, Esselink H (1991) Succession and fluctuation in a wet dune slack in relation to hydrological changes. J Veg Sci 2:545–554CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Grootjans AP, Sival FP, Stuyfzand PJ (1996) Hydrological geochemical analysis of a degraded dune slack. Vegetatio 126:27–38Google Scholar
  10. Grootjans AP, Ernst WHO, Stuyfzand PJ (1998) European dune slacks: strong interactions of biology, pedogenisis and hydrology. TREE 13(3):96–100Google Scholar
  11. Henry HR (1964) Interfaces between salt water and fresh water in coastal aquifers. In: Cooper HH et al (eds) Seawater in coastal aquifers. US Geol Surv Water Suppl Pap 1613-C:35–69Google Scholar
  12. Lammerts EJ, Grootjans AP (1998) Key environmental variables determining the occurrence and life span of basiphilous dune slack vegetation. Acta Bot. Neerl. 47:369–392Google Scholar
  13. Lammerts EJ, Maas C, Grootjans AP (2001) Groundwater variables and vegetation in dune slacks. Ecol Eng 17:33–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Pye K, Blott SJ (2012) A geomorphological survey of Welsh dune systems to determine best methods of dune rejuvenation. CCW Contract Science 1002, Countryside Council for Wales, BangorGoogle Scholar
  15. Ranwell D (1959) Newborough Warren, Anglesey. 1. The dune system and dune slack habitat. J Ecol 47:571–600CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Robins NS, Jones MLM (2012) Ecohydrological ‘Indicators of alteration’ - a robust measure of change in dune slacks. Ecohydrology. doi: 10/1002eco.1264
  17. Rodwell JS (ed) (2000) British plant communities. Volume 5. Maritime communities and vegetation of open habitats. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  18. Saye SE, Pye K (2007) Implications of sea level rise for coastal dune habitat conservation in Wales, UK. J Coast Conserv 11(1):31–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Sival FP (1996) Mesotrophic basiphilous communities affected by changes in soil properties in two dune slack chronosequences. Acta Bot. Neerl. 45(1):95–106Google Scholar
  20. Sival FP, Grootjans AP, Stuyfzand PJ, Verschoore de la Houssaye T (1997) Variation in groundwater composition and decalcification depth in a dune slack: effects on basiphilous vegetation. J Coast Conserv 3:79–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Stratford C, Robins NS, Clarke D, Jones MLM, Weaver G (2013) An ecohydrological review of dune slacks on the west coast of England and Wales. Ecohydrology 6(1):162–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Stuyfzand PJ (1993) Hydrochemistry and hydrology of the coastal dune area of the western Netherlands. PhD thesis, Vrije Universiteit AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  23. van der Meulen F, Jungerius PD (1989) The decision environment of dynamic dune management. In: van der Meulen F, Jungerius PD, Visser JH (eds) Perspectives in coastal dune management. SPB Academic Publishing, The Hague, pp 133–140Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.British Geological SurveyWallingfordUK
  2. 2.Kenneth Pye Associates Ltd, Crowthorne Enterprise CentreCrowthorne Business EstateBerkshireUK
  3. 3.Ecological Surveys (Bangor)HerefordshireUK

Personalised recommendations