The sand dunes at Camber are a popular educational resource for students researching coastal, recreational and conservation issues. The management plan provides background information on the dunes and highlights the main management aims.
Location and ownership
Camber Sands is situated towards the eastern end of the East Sussex coast and is the only sand dune system in East Sussex.
A large section of the western end of the dunes lie within the Camber Sands and Rye Saltings Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), while the rest is designated a Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI). Camber village lies behind the dunes towards the eastern end.
East Sussex County Council owns the sand dunes towards the eastern end, covering about 53 acres. Rye Golf Club owns the western end, up to the harbour arm. Rother District Council owns and manages the car parks and beach areas next to the dunes.
Dune systems are formed by a complex interaction between geology, tide, sun, wind and vegetation.
Sand, produced by the grinding action of the waves or from material brought down by river systems, is deposited along the coast. When the tide goes out (almost 1km at Camber) the sand is dried by the sun and wind, and blown inland by the prevailing south-westerly wind. This process is called saltation.
When the sand meets an obstruction, eg vegetation and the wind speed drops, the sand is deposited and forms dunes.
The dunes can be divided into three distinct zones:
- embryonic fore dunes
- unstable yellow dunes running parallel with the coast
- stable grey dunes located on the golf course towards the western end of the system.
Camber is an accreting dune system, which means the dunes are gradually getting bigger. 7,500 cubic metres of sand are deposited here every year.
Camber is part of the Dungeness cuspate foreland, a triangular mass of shingle formed after the last ice age. The dunes have formed within the last 350 years and are now restricted by urban development.
The dune system is wedge-shaped, 1km wide in the West tapering to 10 metres wide in the East, after a distance of 3km.
The sand dunes contain locally and nationally important animal and plant communities.
The plants found on the dunes are an important habitat for moths. Many scarce species have been recorded at Camber Sands, including:
- Sand Dart (Agrostis ripae)
- Shore Waistcoat (Mythimna litoralis)
- White Colon (Sideridis albicon).
The dunes are an important site for wintering birds. The following species have all been spotted:
- Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
- Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
- Snow Bunting (Plectrophenox nivdis)
- Stonechat (Saxicola rubetra)
- Sanderling (Calidris alba).
There are also many beetles, with the dunes being the only place in the county where you can find the beetle Bradycellus distnctus.
Surveys carried out at Camber Sands using the National Vegetation Classification system, identified these habitat types:
- fore dune
- dune scrub
- inter tidal
- acid dune grassland.
Sand stabilising with Christmas trees
Flood defence and sand stabilisation
The dunes form an essential part of shore protection. This is particularly important for Camber Village and parts of Romney Marsh, which lie below the high tide level and would quickly be flooded.
Sand dunes are a dynamic system, with wind-blown sand moving inland with strong winds. To prevent Camber village flooding and reduce the amount of sand being blown by the wind, the sand must be stabilised. Maintaining the sea defence is carried out by the Environment Agency in partnership with East Sussex County Council and Rother District Council.
The main sea defence strategy is to remove wind-blown sand from the front of the dunes and public paths going over the dunes. Chestnut fencing is used to trap the sand and stop it blowing over the dunes onto the village. It is also used to encourage people to keep to the marked paths, protecting fragile vegetation which stabilises the sand. This vegetation is mainly Marram Grass (Ammophila arenaria)
The county council is working to an agreed five-year management plan with English Nature. The plan includes the removal of Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) from the back areas of the dunes located in the SSSI. This shrub is very invasive and quickly spreads, shading out other plants. It also fixes nitrogen in the soil, which encourages other invasive species like Nettle (Urtica dioica) and Elder (Sambucus nigra). An area of Sea Buckthorn is cut and burnt each year between October and February and the regrowth sprayed the following spring. Other invasive species are also cleared in each area. Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) in particular is controlled by spraying and hand pulling during the spring.
Surveys are carried out to monitor the effects of Sea Buckthorn clearance. Fixed-point photography and quadrate surveys establish what species of flora are re-colonising the opened up areas.
Post and rail fences encourage visitors to keep to the paths over the dunes. Many plants on the dunes are very fragile and are damaged by visitors trampling them. Vegetation along the paths is cleared during the summer to keep paths open. Interpretation panels have been erected along the paths informing visitors about the wildlife they might see.
The rangers regularly clear broken chestnut fencing and rubbish from the dunes. This is particularly important during the summer when the site is very busy with visitors.
In the 1920s Camber's large sandy beach was a popular seaside destination. The growing tourist industry let to urban development in Camber village and damaged the dunes.
In 1939 the coastal land at Camber was used by the War Department for military exercises. Concrete tank traps and pillboxes were built because of the threat of German invasion during the 1940s. The beach was also used for practising beach landing manoeuvres in preparation for D-Day.
After the war, the sand dunes had to be restored. In 1967, the council carried out major reseeding of the dunes and wind-blown sand was removed to build Dungeness Power Station. In recent years there has been increasing pressure from tourism with up to 25,000 people visiting on hot summer days. This has resulted in further erosion of the dunes.
If you'd like to know more about the dunes, please get in touch: