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Kinmel: Dunes habitat and wildlife

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Explore the sand dune ecosystem and wildlife habitats found at Kinmel dunes!
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Grid Reference: SH 987806.

Kinmel Dunes Wildlife

What are sand dunes and how do they form?

Sand dunes form along the edge of a coastline where sand is regularly moved by the wind and sea. They are essentially piles of sand stabilised by specialist plants. The movement of sand is a vital aspect of sand dune systems - winter storms regularly erode dunes, so they need topping up throughout the year.

Dunes can only form because of the plants that grow there. These plants are cleverly adapted to trap the sand and create shelter for more sand to pile up. This process triggers something called vegetative succession. The first, or ‘colonizer’ plant, grows, paving the way for better dune-forming plants by creating shelter and providing nutrients. As a couple of plants start to grow in this newly created section of the beach, more and more sand is trapped. This creates a larger mound which is stabilised by the plants’ roots, eventually becoming a sand dune.

Sand dune systems are impressive because new dunes are always forming. This means that you can actually see the varying stages of this process (vegetative succession) and learn about how ecosystems form.

Dune Wildlife

For general dune wildlife take a look at our spotters guide


Although dunes are famous for their extensive marram grass covering (which is rather boring looking and prickly), Kinmel is home to over 42 species of beautiful looking dune flowers including purple toadflax, sea mayweed, and sea rocket.


These wildflowers attract nectar eating butterflies which in turn pollinate the flowers so they can spread and reproduce. Spring butterflies you can spot in Kinmel include large white, small white, green veined white, common blue, meadow blue, gatekeeper, and red admiral. Why not take a look at our butterfly spotter’s guide.


Dunes are great habitat for UK reptile species such as adders and sand lizards. These animals live underground in burrows, which are easy to dig into the soft sand. They are also ectotherms and use the hot sand to bask out in summer. No adders have been spotted in Kinmel, but the habitat is ideal.  We have spotted sand lizards, but they are completely harmless. Please do not disturb them. They drop their tails in defence when they feel under attack. The tails still wriggle even when unattached!


The sand dunes are a great place to spot coastal birds such as the herring gull and the heron and wading birds such as oystercatchers. The very rare and in decline skylark can be found here too between May and August. Because it nests on the ground it can be very vulnerable and easily disturbed by dogs and people, so be mindful when walking the dune trail! You can find out more about skylarks on the North Wales wildlife Trust website.

Beach Wildlife

For general beach wildlife take a look at our seashore spotter guide

Along the beach and hidden in the sand you can find tube worms, razor shells, and cockles. These animals are all filter feeders, which means they filter plankton and ocean debris like a sieve through the water to get nutrients. Sandy beaches provide a great hiding place - often they live beneath the surface and just poke a small tube or frond above the sand to take in water and food. You may also be able to spot egg cases from whelks and sharks (mermaid’s purses) that wash up on the shore after the hatchlings have emerged.

Marine mammal lovers with a good and patient eye can spot grey seals, bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoise from the shore, so be sure to bring your cameras and binoculars. The site is also a great place to spot marine birds such as common terns, oystercatchers, and guillemots feeding out at sea, and if you’re lucky you may even see the rare skylark hidden within the dune grass.

For more information on the wildlife at Kinmel dunes please visit the North Wales wildlife trust website.

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