Coastal dunes are experiencing increases in vegetation cover and reduced mobility levels in many sites around the world. Ecology-led approaches to coastal dune management perceive this change as ‘undesirable’ because the increase in plant cover leads to a reduction in partially vegetated to bare sand habitats and the species depending on them. This has generated a shift in the management paradigm where the objective is to revert this trend by intervening in the landscape, with actions ranging from re-introducing grazing and mowing, to mechanical removal of dune form and vegetation (dune ‘rejuvenation’). In some cases, such as many coastal dunes in Britain, this has also led to low controls on visitor pressure and allowing/promoting human trampling as a ‘natural’ way to free up areas of bare sand. This commentary critically analyses the main principles (and terminology) underlying this relatively recent shift in management paradigm, and questions assumptions such as ‘bare sand is good’ and/or ‘mobility is natural’ in the context of dune evolutionary cycles and responses to abiotic and biotic drivers. We review the limitations and dangers of this approach and argue that it is not sustainable given the current climatic and environmental conditions, and that it can increase the risk of coastal erosion and force dune systems to deviate from adapting and changing to direct/indirect drivers. Finally, we present the benefits of a management approach that focuses on minimizing human impacts so that natural processes continue to occur.
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- Coastal dune management
- Nature conservation
- Coastal dune evolution