Samantha A. Gordine on the joint town and gown effort to save the dunes

“For true success, it matters what our goals are. And it matters how we go about attaining them. The means are as important as the ends. How we get there is as important as where we go.” These words were said by famous Old Tom Morris. And true they are.

2010 has been a busy year for St. Andrews. Hosting the Open Championships in July and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championships this month will have brought many spectators not only to Old Course, but also to our world’s famous beach – the West Sands.Stretching out over 2 miles, St. Andrews awards winning beach has undergone many changes. Over the past years the dynamic nature of the coast with rising sea levels and frequent severe storms has made the dunes instable and subject to erosion. However, the West Sands – known for its scenes in the film ‘Chariots of Fire’ – are not only facing natural pressures, but also stresses triggered by man.

For this reason, the West Sands Partnership, consisting of members from Fife Coast and Countryside Trust (FCCT), Fife Council, St. Andrews Links Trust, SNH and the University of St. Andrews, have developed a management plan. The plan area includes the beach from Out Head to the Bruce Embankments, the Links and the dunes. The FCCT is able to support the work of the partnership through the EU funding project SUSCOD, which assists the sustainable development of coastal areas in 7 EU countries.

The plan attempts to balance protection for biodiversity with recreational activities.The aim is to encourage use of the beach, which protecting the fragile dunes.

Waste management is also an important factor. Apart from the obvious litter disposal, things as throwing apple pips into the dunes – in the belief of it being biodegradable – set off invasive species to grow where marram and lime grasses, wild flowers or heather should be domestic.

Recently, the University’s environment team was approached to get volunteers. Hanna Plant, a St. Andrews sustainable development graduate now working for the Estates Environmental team, has been coordinating the works on the dunes. Together with about 6 students and 4 members of staff they had been relocating marram and lime grasses from established to unestablished parts of the dunes. For the University’s environment team the works on West Sands have been a good opportunity to improve the town and gown relations. Recruiting volunteers has been mainly done by contacting the University’s societies. However, the University is also playing a major role in providing scientific information to help management plans. Having a long history of working at the Eden Estuary and the Bay, the School of Geography and Geosciences has been monitoring the area whilst putting the changes into context with the North Sea environment as well as also looking at the big picture of global sea level and land rise. By mapping the changes topographically, with pictures and on a timescale basis the University is trying to find out how the changes to the north migrating system have an impact on local basis, how man fits into this and more importantly what these changes are driven by.

West Sands are part of a larger ecosystem; local changes have strong impacts on the whole system. The golf courses are protected by the West Sands. In return, the Links are home to many wild flowers, heather and animals. As gorse is invasive, as well as the apple trees mentioned above, a management plan for gorse has been set up and attempts are being made to increase the quantity of heather on the Links. Nonetheless, only very little amount of the Links land is being managed.  “We’re trying to keep the Links as natural as possible”, said Gordon Moir, director of green keeping of St. Andrews Links Trust, at the public meeting.

Already in the mid 1860’s Old Tom Morris recognised the value of the West Sands to its surrounding environment, as he took over as the Custodian of the Links. Today, that role has been filled by residents, Links Ticketholders, St. Andrews students and tourists.

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