Fifteen years of habitat, floristic and vegetation change on a pioneer sand-dune and slack system at Ainsdale, north Merseyside, UK


  • Philip Howard Smith None
  • Patricia A. Lockwood



Ellenberg indicator values, habitat characteristics, nature conservation, primary dune-slack, succession, vascular plants


Changes in habitat, floristics and vegetation between 2005 and 2019 were studied on 2.9 ha of sandy foreshore near Ainsdale-on-Sea, north Merseyside. Named the ‘New Green Beach’, the site initially supported saltmarsh vegetation but, within five years, a 30-35 m-wide embryo dune ridge had formed, eventually 3.5 m high, backed by a 300 x 30 m seasonally flooded, calcareous dune-slack. The latter was colonised by pioneer slack plants, after which it rapidly developed areas of tall-herb fen and Alnus/Salix carr, while saltmarsh plants declined. During succession, species recorded as ‘rare’ became fewer in number while a higher frequency of ‘abundant’ taxa was recorded. The number of vascular plants listed annually increased from one in 2005 to 154 in 2019, though the rate of addition of new plants fell after 2010. Overall, 246 taxa were identified during the study. Only 9% of these were non-native, 17% being regionally or nationally notable, including 16 Red-listed species. Very poor statistical fits were obtained to recognised UK National Vegetation Classification vegetation types. Analysis of Ellenberg Indicator Values for salinity, nitrogen, moisture and reaction showed that the plant community became progressively adapted to low salinity, lower fertility, drier conditions and a less basic soil. The findings are discussed in relation to comparable studies elsewhere in Britain and Northern Europe. The rate of succession on the New Green Beach seems remarkably high, while evidence of declining soil fertility over time was unexpected.