RSPB Scotland Nature Recovery Officer, James Silvey, has this new blog on climate change and the wildlife that could be lost to it.

For the love of... Dunes

At school in the 90’s it was called global warming, the planet was heating up and cartoons showed the earth trapped, sweating in a greenhouse to illustrate the peril. We now know there is much more to climate change than warming temperatures and rising sea levels.

Natterjack toad, Jeroen Stel

Predictions suggest an increase in droughts and floods along with prolonged heat waves for some, and cold spells for others. Basically our weather is likely to become more extreme and unpredictable putting even more pressure on our natural places, species and of course, ourselves.

In the winter of 2013-14 after a trip to RSPB Scotland's Mersehead reserve in Dumfries and Galloway I was shown first hand just how devastating this extreme weather can be.

The reserve lies on the Solway coast, an incredible habitat of vast mudflats, natural saltmarsh and rolling sand dunes. In 2012 the sand dunes on the reserve stood at an impressive 4m high and protected the species-rich dune grasslands found behind its bulk from the wind, salt and spray the sea aimed in its direction on a daily basis.

Dunes really are incredible habitats, and free from the development pressures of golf courses and caravan sites they provide a unique habitat for hardy plants, invertebrates, birds and - in the case of Mersehead - the endangered natterjack toad.

Natterjack toad in pond, Roger Wilmshurst

One of only two native UK toad species, the natterjack is restricted in Scotland to the dunes and saltmarsh habitats that scatter the Solway coastline. This picture had remained largely unchanged until December 2013 when the worst recorded storms of a generation battered the UK with western areas suffering the full force of the storm.

Mersehead, like many areas was not spared the onslaught and vast areas of the reserve were left littered with debris and flooded with sea water which took weeks to fully drain away. As for the dunes, they were almost completely destroyed. Tonnes of sand, along with the plants and invertebrates associated with it were washed into the sea. So too we feared, were a good number of the natterjacks.

It was with some relief therefore that on April 23rd 2014 the first male toads started calling to signify the start of the breeding season - somehow the toads had survived.

It's a testament to the tenacity of our wildlife that recovery like this can happen, even the dunes are re-growing (1m tall last time I saw them in November). But how resilient can they be if subjected to a rise in these weather events? By their very nature dune systems are dynamic, unpredictable places, subject to change and with an ability to recover. Even so, full recovery on this scale will take years and if storms like the ones seen in 2013 increase in frequency, it is easy to see how some of our most special places will simply be washed away.

If you love dunes, natterjacks or our coasts please add your voice at or send a message to the First Minister asking her to act on climate change.