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LIFE DUNIAS English

DUNIAS is an acronym and stands for 'DUNe restoration by tackling Invasive Alien Species'. 

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What is LIFE DUNIAS?

In this nature restoration project, dune areas along the entire Flemish coastline will be cleared of shrubby invasive non-native species. Follow the project's progress on this page, via our Facebook or Instagram page. 

The project began on 1 December 2021 and will run until 1 December 2026. Agency for Nature and Forests (ANB), along with 15 partners, will remove these invasive plants through a coordinated approach. The DUNIAS project receives financial support through the European Union's LIFE program, as well as from all the project partners. 

Nature restoration in the dunes

With LIFE DUNIAS, we are allowing native species to flourish again in our unique dune area by removing the invasive plants. We dig up the dune sand with cranes and we sift it, restoring the native nature. So don't be alarmed if you soon see some large machines at work along the coastline. They are ensuring the future of our dunes! 

You too can play an important role in restoring nature to our dunes. Invasive plants often have beautiful flowers that make them popular in our gardens. However, they do not belong there and cause ecological and economic damage. Will you choose native plants in your garden from now on? 

In addition, it is a great help if you can recognise and report invasive plants in the dunes via www.waarnemingen.be: this is how we can prevent further overgrowth of the dune landscape in the future. In fact, we use your observations to take the necessary action quickly! 

Concrete actions

  1. Removal of approximately 40 hectares of invasive plants in the Flemish dunes from all the partners and co-funders. Because these plants are generally not easy to remove, we use large machines with cranes, large mobile sieves and tractors for this purpose. 
  2. The purchase of 30 hectares of private land, so that invasive plants can be removed on this too.
  3. Extensive communication campaign on site actions: DUNIAS film, brochure, exhibition, information boards, information walks, etc.
  4. Raising awareness through training of nature guides, volunteers, garden rangers, 'community-based' removal (working with schools, youth movements and young people to remove invasive plants).
  5. Raising awareness through training at secondary schools and university colleges, consultation with professional sector (plant centres, landscapers, plant industry), etc.
  6. Raising awareness of coastal municipalities through lists of planting materials to be used, presentations and informational walks, prize for municipalities making efforts, etc.
  7. Two international workshops on IAS (invasive plants).
  8. After LIFE conservation plan: plan to establish approach to invasive plants after the project, with ultimate goal of obtaining a number of signed commitments (e.g. no more planting of invasive plants in parkland coastal communities). 

The Flemish dunes

The Flemish coastal dunes form a unique ecosystem with a lot of special and protected animals and plants: such as the natterjack toad, the grayling and a great many species of orchids. The various European-protected types of nature found in the Flemish dunes are the following: 

Dune grasslands 

In the coastal dunes, you will find grasslands found nowhere else in Flanders. In these dune limestone grasslands, rich in colour and species, grow species such as lizard orchid, common rock-rose, common milkwort, broad-leaved thyme and wall biting stonecrop. 

Dune bushes 

You can find dune bushes along the entire Flemish coast. This shrub vegetation is dominated by species such as sea buckthorn, elder, hawthorn and blackthorn. A great many songbirds, such as the nightingale, the Cetti's warbler and the common grasshopper warbler can be found in these bushes. The lion's share of e.g. the Simli Dunes in Nieuwpoort consists of bushes. The sea buckthorn and blackthorn can expand greatly and quickly through their root shoots and overgrow the dune landscape at the expense of dune grasslands and moist dune hollows. In order to preserve sufficient open spaces, the shrubbery should be locally contained. 

Creeping willow thicket 

Near moist dune valleys, dwarf bushes with creeping willow may develop. Characteristic species include creeping willow, round-leaved wintergreen, marsh helleborine and the very rare pinesap. Creeping willow thickets harbour a typical mushroom flora that includes fibre caps and cortinars.

Dune forests 

Where deciduous forest has developed on dunes, we call this a dune forest. Typical tree and shrub species of dune forests include downy birch, common oak, common hawthorn and aspen. In the herb layer, species such as wood violet, grass lily and broad oak fern can be found, along with a great many mushrooms. Birds such as the nuthatch, tawny owl and lesser spotted woodpecker also find a home here. 

Embryonic dunes 

In the first stage of dune formation, the fixation of drifting sand occurs through colonisation with sand couch grass. As the process of dune formation continues, the embryonic dunes may grow taller and fixation with marram grass begins. Other typical species include sea sandwort, sea rocket and prickly saltwort. Natural beaches are potential nesting areas for rare birds such as the ringed plover, Kentish plover and little tern. Some beautiful examples of these can be found at the beach of Lombardsijde and in front of the Zeebermduinen nature reserve in Oostduinkerke.

Shifting dune

Shifting sand is typical of the dune landscape. The movement of sand grains forms dunes, which are constantly changing and moving. This drifting dune landscape is the habitat of typical species such as the sea holly, the beach sand beetle and the melanoleuca cinereifolia.  

Dune hollow 

Under the influence of the north-west wind prevailing during storms, dunes are formed in the shape of a horseshoe, called parabolic dunes. The sand drifts out to the groundwater level and the drifted sand accumulates into a parabolic dune, which continues to advance in a south-easterly direction. In the wake of that moving dune, a moist dune hollow is created. This moist environment again provides a valuable habitat for a great many unusual plants and animals. For example, the rare natterjack toad can reproduce here in the spring and rare plants such as the marsh helleborine and grass-of-Parnassus grow here. 

Sleedoorn DUNIAS
Zanddoddegras DUNIAS
Zeeraket DUNIAS
Zeewinde DUNIAS
Moeraswesporchis DUNIAS
Muurpeper DUNIAS
Parnassia DUNIAS
Rugstreeppad DUNIAS
Vleeskleurige orchissen in duinpanne DUNIAS
Embryonaal duin DUNIAS
Kruipwilgstruweel
Bastaardzandloopkever DUNIAS
Blauwe zeedistel DUNIAS
Duindoorn
Duindoorn detail
Sleedoorn DUNIAS
Zanddoddegras DUNIAS
Zeeraket DUNIAS
Zeewinde DUNIAS
Moeraswesporchis DUNIAS
Muurpeper DUNIAS
Parnassia DUNIAS
Rugstreeppad DUNIAS
Vleeskleurige orchissen in duinpanne DUNIAS
Embryonaal duin DUNIAS
Kruipwilgstruweel
Bastaardzandloopkever DUNIAS
Blauwe zeedistel DUNIAS
Duindoorn
Duindoorn detail

Invasive plants in the dunes

IAS - Invasive Alien Species?

Threat in the dunes

Unfortunately, nature is under severe pressure, including from invasive plants. These plants, also known as Invasive Alien Species (IAS), are found along the entire Flemish coastline, where they are suppressing local dune nature. Shrubs such as Japanese rose, Oregen grape, Chinese wolfberry and black cherry all exhibit invasive characteristics and are crowding out our dune ecosystems. 

Invasive plants enter the dunes in several ways. Some Southern plants are expanding naturally due to climate warming, but invasive plants are often planted in private gardens or municipal parks adjacent to the dunes, from where these plants 'escape' into the wild (e.g. birds eat seeds, then these end up in surrounding dune nature via their excrement). Another known problem is the dumping of garden waste into nature, after which some plants establish themselves and then expand into the dune areas. 

Do you know this invasive plant?

You too can play an important role in restoring nature to our dunes. It is a great help if you can recognise and report invasive plants in the dunes via www.waarnemingen.be: this is how we can prevent further overgrowth of the dune landscape in the future. In fact, we use your observations to take the necessary action quickly! 

Here is a list of the most common and persistent invasive plants in the Flemish coastal dunes. 

  • Japanese rose Rosa rugosa 
  • Oregon grape Mahonia aquifolium 
  • Tree of heaven Ailanthus altissima 
  • Chilese wolfberry Lycium barbarum 
  • Eastern baccharis Baccharis halimifolia 
  • Black cherry Prunus serotina 
  • False acacia Robina pseudoacasia 
  • White poplar Populus alba 
  • Cotoneaster species Cotoneaster sp. 
  • Palm lily Yucca sp.  
  • Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica 
  • Yellow flowering currant Ribes aureum 
  • Red flowering currant Ribes sanguineum 
  • Snowberry Symphoricarpos albus 
  • Juneberry Amelanchier lamarckii 
  • Common lilac Syringa vulgaris 
  • Holm oak Quercus ilex 
  • Blanket flower species Gaillardia spec. 
  • Russian olive Elaeagnus angustifolia 
  • Silverberry Elaeagnus ebbingei 
  • Oval-leaved privet Ligustrum ovalifolium 
  • Hottentot fig Carpobrotus edulis 
  • Late/Canadian goldenrod Solidago sp. 
  • Vine species Parthenocissus sp. 
RImpelroos DUNIAS
Rimpelroos DUNIAS
Hemelboom DUNIAS
Rode ribes DUNIAS
Wingerd DUNIAS
Kokardebloem DUNIAS
Canadese guldenroede DUNIAS
Cotoneaster DUNIAS
Hottentotvijg DUNIAS
Amerikaanse vogelkers DUNIAS
Amerikaanse vogelkers DUNIAS
Sneeuwbes DUNIAS
Yucca DUNIAS
Struikaster DUNIAS
Struikaster DUNIAS
Mahonie DUNIAS
Mahonie DUNIAS
Boksdoorn DUNIAS
Boksdoorn DUNIAS
RImpelroos DUNIAS
Rimpelroos DUNIAS
Hemelboom DUNIAS
Rode ribes DUNIAS
Wingerd DUNIAS
Kokardebloem DUNIAS
Canadese guldenroede DUNIAS
Cotoneaster DUNIAS
Hottentotvijg DUNIAS
Amerikaanse vogelkers DUNIAS
Amerikaanse vogelkers DUNIAS
Sneeuwbes DUNIAS
Yucca DUNIAS
Struikaster DUNIAS
Struikaster DUNIAS
Mahonie DUNIAS
Mahonie DUNIAS
Boksdoorn DUNIAS
Boksdoorn DUNIAS

What can you do?

Join us on waarnemingen.be 

It is a big help if you can identify and report invasive plants in the dunes at www.waarnemingen.be. To do this, use the apps ObsIdentify (recognise nature in 1 click) or ObsMapp (enter and upload observations) on your smartphone. Or enter your observations on the PC.  

This way, we can prevent further overgrowth of the dune landscape in the future. In fact, we use your observations to take the necessary action quickly (rapid response)! 

Inform yourself

A conference on dune management was held in Devon, West England, in March 2023. More than 100 dune experts from several European countries gathered there to exchange knowledge and gain inspiration. The LIFE DUNIAS project coordinator was also invited to give a guest presentation on the LIFE DUNIAS project, the management of invasive alien species and the horizon scan report that was produced as part of the project.

Projectarea

The project area extends over the entire coastline. Here is an overview of the areas where shrubby invasive non-native plants are being tackled.

Eastcoast

Areas (in Dutch):

  • Zwin, Koningsbos en Blinckaertduinbos, Park 58, Sterneneiland, Golf Knokke, Stubbenpark, Dir. gen Willemspark, Baai van Heist, Sashul, Fonteintjes, Zeereep Blankenberge-Wenduine, Duinen en bossen De Haan, Golf De Haan, Zeereep Bredene

Westcoast

Areas (in Dutch):

  • Duinreep Mariakerke, Raversyde, Duinen Middelkerke, Warandeduinen, Sint-Laureinsduinen, Ijzermonding, Simliduinen, Groenendijk, Ter Yde/Hannecart, Oostvoorduinen, Plaatsduinen, Witte burg, Zeebermduinen, Doornpanne, Schipgatduinen, Hoge Blekker, Noordduinen, Houtsaegherduinen, Oosthoekduinen, Westhoek, Cabour

Who are we?

The DUNIAS project receives financial support from the European Union's LIFE programme, as well as from all the partners. 

  • Total project budget: 7,087,215 euros 
  • EU co-funding: 4,252,329 euros (60%) 

Unique to the DUNIAS project is the coordinated approach with all the main dune managers in Belgium. 

We will list them for you here: 

  • Coordination: Nature and Forest Agency 
  • 4 associated partners who will implement actions themselves:  
    • Natuurpunt Studie, Natuurpunt Beheer, Natuurinvest and Compagnie het Zoute 
  • 11 co-funders contributing financially to the project:  
    • Agency for Maritime and Coastal Services (Coast Division), Agency for Roads and Traffic, Province of West Flanders, Royal donation, Department of Defence, Aquaduin (formerly IWVA), Royal Ostend golf club, Municipality of Koksijde, Municipality of Knokke-Heist, Municipality of De Panne, City of Ostend

Frequently Asked Questions

What will the dunes look like after the works?

A sandy dune will remain for the first few months after the invasive plants are removed. This bare dune is also very interesting for biodiversity: in fact, a great many butterflies and other insects use the dune sand to warm up. The natterjack toad is also fond of such bare patches in the landscape. After several months, new plants will germinate from the seeds present in the dune sand, colonising the dune. Plants, such as dune pansy, dune dandelion, bitter fleabane and sea rocket, are the first species you will see. After a few years, a species-rich native dune will have developed again, giving optimum benefit to our nature. 

Why are such large machines being used?

Some invasive plants have very deep root systems and occur in large numbers. This makes it impossible to remove them with a spade. With a crane, some invasive plants are dug out up to 1 metre deep, otherwise the plants will shoot back out from the roots left behind. Every piece of root must be removed from the soil, because even the smallest piece left behind can grow into a new plant. A mobile fine-mesh drum sieve can separate these root fragments from the dune sand present in-situ. 

What can I do myself to help our dunes?

Everyone can do her or his part! Some things to look out for:  

  • Never leave garden waste in the wild. Parts of plants can quickly take root in certain cases, growing back into invasive plants. 
  • Have you identified a invasive plant? If so, report it via www.observado.orgObsIdentiy or ObsMapp
  • Do you live near the dunes or does your garden itself border onto a dune? Then avoid invasive plants in your garden. These can easily expand through underground root shoots and also end up in nature through berries, which are eaten by birds.  
  • Do not buy any invasive plants. 

How do I remove invasive plants from my own garden?

It is best to remove invasive plants entirely. This way, you ensure that the plant cannot spread any further: both above and below ground. Pruning the plants makes no sense at all; sometimes they even grow better after pruning.

Why not just let nature take its course?

If we let nature take its course, our dunes would become more and more overgrown with these invasive plants. It is known that these proliferators can expand very rapidly in a short space of time. Whereas only 1 plant could be observed in one year, several years later there will already be a spot several square metres in size. By intervening now, we can prevent further overgrowth of the dune landscape and our own dune nature can recover. Moreover, the cost to society is increasing. In certain cases, roots of invasive plants can damage road surfaces or other infrastructure, for example. Furthermore, the cost to our own nature by the enormous ecological damage caused by these plants can hardly be expressed. So it pays to intervene as soon as possible. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of these major works?

Thanks to the works that will take place as part of the LIFE DUNIAS project, invasive plants will be removed along the entire Flemish coast. This will prevent them from expanding further, and from threatening native dune nature any further. Over certain periods, large machines will be present on the site as a result. In each case, the partners involved coordinate with local authorities so as to cause as little disruption as possible. If necessary, alternative walking routes will be proposed. 

Why should Japanese rose disappear?

Japanese rose is native to Southeast Asia. So this plant does not belong here at all. We can even say: just like many other invasive plants, the Japanese rose is a major threat to our Flemish dune nature! 

Hardly any sunlight gets through the dense foliage of the Japanese  rose, so hardly any other plants grow under the plant. It does not help the animals living in the dunes either.

Is the project good for biodiversity?

The LIFE DUNIAS project is hugely beneficial for the biodiversity of Flanders' coastal dunes! The dozens of hectares where invasive plants are being removed are being restored to European protected dune nature. 

Few plants and animals occur under invasive plants with dense foliage because sunlight has difficulty reaching the dune floor. After invasive plants are removed, dune nature recovers spontaneously. Dune pansies emerge and the Queen of Spain fritillary enjoys this. Marram grass starts to fixate the sand, after which the grayling can lay its eggs on this grass. The natterjack toad benefits from the renewed dynamics in the dunes. The sand can drift back and cause re-calcification of the landscape. The latter in turn is interesting for plants such as boad-leaved thyme, common rock-rose and numerous orchid species.

Will the project improve coastal protection?

Shrubs hold sand with their roots. Removing invasive plants creates temporarily and locally open dunes. Where necessary, marram grass is planted to preserve the strength of the dunes. Marram grass plays an important role in the formation of dunes. Marram grass has a large root system, allowing it to grow upwards with the dune.  Planting marram grass will locally prevent the drifting sand from covering roads and buildings.

What does LIFE DUNIAS do to trees such as the poplar?

Only a few tree species are tackled during the LIFE DUNIAS project. LIFE DUNIAS mainly targets invasive shrubs. 

The exception is the tree of heaven. It is on the union list of the European Union and must therefore be tackled as a priority. Abels, maples and poplars are also tackled when they threaten to overgrow dune grasslands.

Does removing bushes increase the accessibility of protected areas?

Yes and no: certain zones are inaccessible to protect sensitive wildlife. Other zones indeed become more accessible as impenetrable scrub is removed.

Downloads

Logo's

Leaflet LIFE DUNIAS

International startworkshop

From 18 to 21 May 2022, the LIFE DUNIAS team headed to Koksijde to immerse themselves in the world of invasive plants (IAS: Invasive Alien Species) in the coastal dunes, along with some international dune experts. Read the full report: 'Assessment of current and future invasie plants in protected dune habitats of the Atlantic coastal region - Including management accounts of selected species for the LIFE DUNIAS project (LIFE20 NAT/BE/001442)'

The workshop days were substantively guided by the Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO). Under their expert wings, some hard work was done on a horizon scan. Patrik Oosterlynck made the link to the Belgian Natura 2000 perspective. 

It also outlined the IAS situation in Belgium (Reinhardt Strubbe), Wales (Kathryn Hewitt), Spain (Berea Rodríguez Addesso), France (Benoît Delangue), the United Kingdom and Ireland (John Houston). And several terrain cases were presented by Kris Lesage, Reinhardt Strubbe, Sam Provoost (Belgium), Kathryn Hewitt (Wales), Janneke van der Loop, Luc Geelen (Netherlands), Bruce Osborne (Ireland). John Houston provided an update on the international 'dune roadmap'. 

Saturday concluded with a Bioblitz at the Westhoek Reserve. 

This page features all the presentations and a few photos of the atmosphere.

More information?

If you would like to learn more about the project or have any specific questions, put them in an e-mail to Reinhardt at reinhardt.strubbe@vlaanderen.be

Disclaimer

Co-funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or CINEA. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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