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Special Areas of Conservation

Sefton Coast

Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Country England
Unitary Authority Merseyside
Centroid* SD281099
Latitude 53.58083333
Longitude -3.085
SAC EU Code UK0013076
Status Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Area (ha) 4591.59
* This is the approximate central point of the SAC. In the case of large, linear or composite sites, this may not represent the location where a feature occurs within the SAC.
Location of Sefton Coast SAC

General site character

  • Tidal rivers, Estuaries, Mud flats, Sand flats, Lagoons (including saltwork basins) (50%)
  • Coastal sand dunes, Sand beaches, Machair (30%)
  • Heath, Scrub, Maquis and Garrigue, Phygrana (10%)
  • Coniferous woodland (10%)

Download the Standard Data Form for this site (PDF <100kb)

Note When undertaking an appropriate assessment of impacts at a site, all features of European importance (both primary and non-primary) need to be considered.

Annex I habitats that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • The Sefton Coast in north-west England displays both rapid erosion and active progradation. Embryonic shifting dunes are of the northern, lyme-grass Leymus arenarius, type and are mainly associated with the areas of progradation, though vegetation dominated by lyme-grass is also found associated with areas of persistent, heavy disturbance further inland.

  • A substantial stretch of the Sefton Coast dune system in north-west England is fronted by about 163 ha of shifting dunes. Marram Ammophila arenaria usually dominates the mobile dunes, amidst considerable areas of blown sand. Where rates of sand deposition decline, lyme grass Leymus arenarius, sea-holly Eryngium maritimum and cat’s-ear Hypochaeris radicata occur, with red fescue Festuca rubra and spreading meadow-grass Poa humilis present on the more sheltered ridges. Sea spurge Euphorbia paralias and the nationally scarce dune fescue Vulpia fasciculata are frequent, while sea bindweed Calystegia soldanella is very local. Formby Point is the hinge point between two coastal sub-cells. The zone around the Point has been eroding since 1906 while areas north and south of this zone are accreting (where the nature of the coast allows). The rapid erosion is therefore reducing the area of shifting dunes at Formby, and high, steep eroding dunes abut the beach with extensive areas of blown sand immediately inland.

  • Sefton Coast is a large area of predominantly calcareous dune vegetation in north-west England. The sequence of habitats from foredunes to dune grassland and dune slack is extensive, and substantial areas of open dune vegetation remain. There are large areas of semi-fixed and fixed dunes with herbaceous vegetation exhibiting considerable variation from calcareous to acidic. In the calcareous areas common restharrow Ononis repens is prominent. There are small but significant areas of decalcified sand with grey hair-grass Corynephorus canescens, a species more characteristic of decalcified fixed dunes in the east of England and around the Baltic.

  • At Sefton Coast on the north-west coast of England there are extensive dune slacks dominated by creeping willow Salix repens ssp. argentea, making this site particularly important for dunes with Salix repens ssp. argentea. Radley (1994) estimated that 99 ha, or 43% of the total English resource of the main dune slack community dominated by creeping willow occurred here. The species also dominates areas of free-draining dune grassland to a much greater extent than at most other UK sites. Despite some urban and recreational development, both successional and geomorphological processes are still active and the structure and function of the site as a whole is still well-conserved. Management, including partial removal of planted conifers, has taken place in recent years to maintain and enhance these processes.

  • Sefton Coast is a large area of predominantly calcareous dune vegetation, containing extensive areas representative of Humid dune slacks in north-west England. Some active slack formation can still be seen and a variety of successional stages are represented. The sequence from foredunes to dune grassland and dune slack is extensive. The site contributes to the range and variation of humid dune slack vegetation, being a large and representative base-rich system towards the northern limit for some humid dune slack communities along the west coast of Britain.

Annex I habitats present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for selection of this site

Annex II species that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • 1395 Petalwort Petalophyllum ralfsii

    A large population of petalwort Petalophyllum ralfsii occurs at Sefton Coast, the only site chosen for this species in north-west England. The plant was first recorded on the Sefton Coast at Ainsdale in 1861 and it is still found within the dune system between Southport and Ainsdale. It seems to prefer damp ground around the edges of dune slacks of fairly recent origin, with the largest populations found in slacks of less than 25 years old. The plant is often found in association with footpaths, where light trampling keeps the ground vegetation sparse; infrequently-used paths or less-trampled edges of pathways seem to be favoured. Although the preferred habitat is short damp turf with plenty of bare patches, populations have been found growing amongst dense marram Ammophila arenaria with few other associated species.

Annex II species present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

Many designated sites are on private land: the listing of a site in these pages does not imply any right of public access.