Set on the estuary of the River Duddon, with a backdrop of the Lakeland Mountains, Sandscale Haws is a stunning sand dune habitat with International importance.
History of the Site
The name Sandscale Haws takes its name from the Norse Sandra (sand), skali (temporary hut) and haws (hills) and refers to the age old practice of wintering sheep on the dunes, the temporary huts being the shepherd's accommodation. It has been occupied by humans from the Stone Age with finds such as arrow heads, scrapers, anvil stone and a polished axe found amongst the dunes. The land formed part of the land holding for the nearby Furness Abbey in the 12th and 13th Century and the woodland covering was cleared to be used as farmland. The site was used as a warren with the the introduction of rabbits at this time. There is still evidence of the Ridge and Furrow working on an area known as Red Gutter, which could date from 1500s just before the farm fell into dilapidation with the dissolution of the Abbey.
From 1540 until 1955 the area was owned by the owners of some of the Roanhead mines which included the Duchy of Lancaster, Lords Sherbourne and Thomas Woodburn.
During the war the Black Watch infantry used the dunes for training and the Lowsy Point Cabins (now fishing cabins) were requisitioned as their quarters. Around the site you will find the remains of brick buildings; these were tank decoys which were in the shape of the Barrow docks. Filled with water and with lights shinning down from above they would have created a decoy and drawn bomber planes away from the heart of Barrow in Furness.
After this time the majority of the site was bought by British Cellophane which used the area as a rough shoot. The rest of the area which included the car park and nearby dunes was kept by the Woodburn family who allowed local people access to the sea.
The National Trust took management and bought the site in 1984 with funds provided from Operation Neptune, a National fundraiser to acquire coastal sites.
The Importance of Sandscale
Sandscale Haws includes seven coastal habitats which are considered internationally important. They are embryonic shifting dunes, shifting dunes along the shoreline with marram grass (known as yellow dunes), fixed dunes with herbaceous vegetation (grey dunes), Atlantic decalcified fixed dunes (dune heath), dunes with creeping willow (dune slacks), humid dune slacks and finally, Atlantic salt meadows (established salt marsh).
The site is also a vital support to the Duddon Sands SPA for wintering and passage waders such as curlew, dunlin, sanderling, redshank and knot.
Six species of amphibians are found on the site - common frog, common toad, natterjack toad and the three native newt species (great crested, palmate and smooth). The site is particularly important for the natterjack toad which is protected under European law. It is considered to be endangered in five countries (including the UK) and has declining numbers in many more. Sandscale is ideal for this amphibian as it has abundant breeding pools in which the long spawn strings are laid and in which the tadpoles develop, and also well grazed grassy areas and bare sand over which the toads can hunt their invertebrate prey. Many of the breeding pools are seasonal and dry out in the summer and this helps to keep invertebrate predators under control. Natterjacks spend the winter months hibernating in burrows within the dunes.
606 plant types including subspecies and varieties have been recorded from the dune system and surrounding habitats so there is plenty to talk about. Sandscale is one of the most important sites in the UK for the Coralroot orchid. This plant has very little chlorophyll in its stem so there is limited photosynthesis. Instead it has a symbiotic relationship with a fungi that lives at the base of the stem. Without this fungi the plant could not survive.
The Dune Helleborine is endemic to the UK and has a high tolerance of heavy metals of which Barrow is known for, from its history of iron ore mining. Other notable species include the Green Flowered Helleborine, Grass-of-Parnassus and the round leaved wintergreen along with other highly specialised coastal species.
Sandscale has been ranked as one of the most important coastal mycological sites in the British Isles. Over 200 species have been recorded including a species new to science in the 1990s which is still awaiting a full biological description and name. To date it has only been found on Sandscale and North Walney.
At Sandscale we have three red data book (RDB) species, two on the Provisional RDB list, three nationally rare (Na), twenty eight Nationally Scarce (Nb), ten regionally rare (Nr) and an impressive 160 species having a localised distribution in mainland Britain. In recent years several species of dragonfly have been recorded for the first time and who knows what else awaits discovery here.
The site is cared for by two National Trust Rangers, Neil Forbes and Jo Day. We work closely together to maintain the site in favourable condition as set down by Natural England. The main priority is to continue the long-standing grazing regime to arrest successional development that would eventually lead to dense scrub and loss of many of the important wildlife species. The grazing livestock and the rabbit population retain the dune system in the early stages of succession with a high density of plants which support the vast numbers of invertebrates which in turn support many other creatures including breeding birds and the natterjack toads. The site has been grazed for at least 800 years and it is this that has created such as diverse environment.