Ecological restoration of coastal dunes

Coastal sand dunes are home to stunning, species-rich ecosystems and provide numerous services to mankind, such as storm protection, opportunities for tourism and production of drinking water. Most coastal sand dunes across Northwest Europe currently experience denser vegetation cover and geomorphological stabilisation, resulting in a rapid decline in biodiversity and loss of important services. Nature managers are therefore increasingly implementing pragmatic nature-based solutions to restore static dunes into dynamic ecosystems.

Trenches across the dunes on Terschelling. Photo credit: Gerben Ruessink.

Nature-based solutions will only be successful when based on fundamental insight into the ecological and geomorphological processes, and their feedback loops, that affect and control coastal dune systems. Within the Aeolus meets Poseidon project (2014-2019), Utrecht University pioneered into landscape-scale dune restoration research with drinking water companies, water authorities and other Dutch public and private partners. Based on detailed measurements, the project unravelled how one of the largest restoration projects along the Dutch coast evolved during the first years after its implementation and provided a conceptual model for future evolution. This model has already been used as a provisional guideline in the design of new restoration measures.

In future work within the Water, Climate and Future Deltas hub, we aim to continue with:

  • Monitoring the vegetation evolution in restoration projects using new satellite systems in order to facilitate the evaluation of these projects by stakeholders;
  • Testing our conceptual model and converting it into a predictive bio-geomorphological coastal evolution model;
  • Contributing to solve present-day and future scientific and practice-inspired challenges in which combined nature and coastal protection goals are to be optimised.
Gerben Ruessink explains why the dune region near Bloemendaal, where five openings were created in the dunes, is his favourite dune region.

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