Military training helps sand dunes secure a golden future

Army personnel have been honing their engineering skills whilst having a positive impact on precious sand dunes on the north Cornwall coast.

For the second year running, personnel from 232 Port Squadron, 165 Port and Maritime Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps (RLC), have taken part in a military training exercise that not only develops their expertise but also creates better conditions for sand dune wildlife in the Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Last year’s work by the regiment was so successful that the training exercise had been repeated this year. 

Working with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, the British Army has given sand dune wildlife a much-needed boost at Penhale Training Area in Cornwall as part of Dynamic Dunescapes, an ambitious conservation project aiming to restore 7,000 hectares of sand dune in England and Wales, funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund and EU LIFE Programme. 

Through our collaborative work with Cornwall Wildlife Trust and the Army, we’re sustainably managing land used for military training RETIRED LIEUTENANT COLONEL WESTCOTT,
DIO TRAINING SAFETY OFFICER

Major John Porter, Officer Commanding for 232 Port Squadron, said: 

“We’re really pleased to be able to continue to support the Cornwall Dynamic Dunescapes Project at Penhale Training Area this year. 

“Not many people would link conservation work of this nature with military personnel honing their skills, but this exercise has enabled our team to learn about and practice manoeuvring these large excavators which are often used to support major operations around the world.”

The large dune system at Penhale is home to a wealth of native wildlife, from reptiles to delicate orchids, rare butterflies and bees, who only live in sandy habitats. These species thrive in our coastal landscapes when there are plenty of areas of bare sand available for burrowing into or hunting on top of, and low grassland where they can hide or produce flowers. 

The challenges that Penhale Dunes currently face, much like many of the coastal dune systems in Europe, is that areas of bare sand or low grassland are becoming smaller and further apart. Fast-growing scrubby vegetation, encouraged by the loss of natural grazing, climate change and by nitrogen increases caused by air pollution, is overtaking the landscape. As the bare sand and low grass habitat areas shrink, dune plants and animals are the first to suffer; coastal sand dunes are experiencing significant biodiversity loss.

By conducting our training in the local area to where our Regiment is based, we’re also helping to reduce the impact on the carbon footprint. Major Porter,
165 Port and Maritime Regiment

As part of a machinery training programme, two 16-tonne military diggers were used by a team from the regiment to remove areas of overgrown scrub and expose bare sand on Penhale’s overgrown dunes. And, in a previously damaged area that is now home to lower plant biodiversity than the surrounding dunes, the diggers were used to strip away the top layer of turf to expose patches of bare sand. All this will create better conditions for sand dune wildlife. 

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Westcott, DIO Training Safety Officer for the Cornwall area, said:  

“The UK Defence Training Estate is home to a diverse range of habitats and wildlife species, many of which have been granted protected status. Through our collaborative work with Cornwall Wildlife Trust and the Army, we’re sustainably managing land used for military training and balancing military needs with ecological conservation here at Penhale Training Area.” 

Major John Porter concluded:

“By conducting our training in the local area to where our Regiment is based, we’re also helping to reduce the impact on the carbon footprint.”