Natural Resources Wales is a devolved body responsible for maintaining Wales’ environment and resources sustainably.
Rising sand levels in Swansea Bay, coupled with high winds off the sea, meant a seafront road had to be regularly cleared. Swansea Council spent tens of thousands of pounds a year sweeping the road clear. There were also disposal costs, as contamination with road debris meant sand had to go to landfill, instead of back on the beach. A seafront promenade and cycleway were made dangerous by the sand.
Natural Resources Wales suggested encouraging a sand dune system to form. This would stabilise the sand and contribute to the local environment.
As part of new requirements to consult on plans for Welsh river catchments, NRW undertook a very broad consultation with residents and businesses around the Tawe. The wind-blown sand problem came out of this consultation. NRW recognised that they could use this as an opportunity to showcase the potential of nature-based solutions, rather than expensive hard infrastructure such as groynes or rock-filled gabions. They had to get the Council on board though.
Luckily, Swansea Council had already been advised that a dune system might be the answer, but they didn’t have the up-front cash to pay for it. Joint funding, use of NRW’s internal works team and a reduction in the length of the dune, made the project affordable.
Volunteers from local school and organisations planted the grasses required to help the dunes form. NRW experimented with different types of grass to see what effect they had on dune formation.
The sand dune project has produced multiple benefits, beyond reducing maintenance costs and reducing risks to cyclists. The aesthetics of the beach are improved, and habitats are more diverse. As dunes have started to form naturally, the protection they provide from flooding and erosion of the foreshore is only going to increase.
Up-front costs can put off public bodies from projects with public benefit and savings. Invest to Save and Innovate to Save programs can help kick start projects like these.
Bringing diverse sets of expertise together around shared goals can enrich ideas and bring about broader ranges of benefits – as well as allowing pooled funding.
Natural Resources Wales has begun using the dune project as a case study of how nature-based solutions can outperform traditional hard infrastructure when it communicates with Councils and other bodies in Wales.
The whole promenade wasn’t protected by the scheme, so windblown sand still affects the promenade. Swansea Council hasn’t said it plans to extend the sand dune project across the whole area, and since this was a demonstration project, Natural Resources Wales doesn’t intend on joint funding the rest of the dune system. Swansea Council has begun using the contaminated sand to supply its cold weather road gritting program.
Image: Natural Resources Wales