December 2014. Mechanical lowering of sand levels at the promenade wall. Ongoing sand accretion threatens to block surface water drainage. © HVL
December 2014. Mechanical lowering of sand levels at the promenade wall. Ongoing sand accretion threatens to block surface water drainage. © HVL


Hoylake Village Life’s “A Sustainable Vision for Hoylake Beach” project began in 2011 in response to ongoing concerns about the sustainability of beach management activities on the North Wirral Foreshore, which includes annual spraying of glyphosate and raking, under licence from Natural England and the Environment Agency, to suppress natural saltmarsh development and dune succession, in an attempt to maintain a designated area of amenity beach adjacent the Victorian promenade.

The foreshore area enjoys a number of Natura 2000 protections including SSSI, SAC, SPA and RAMSAR.

The most significant underlying issue is one that has not thus far been adequately addressed in any previous Habitat Regulation Assessments; wind blown sand accretion. This is recorded at over 300 mm per decade over the last four decades, with beach volume increases of between 70,000 and 120,000 cubic metres per annum. As the foreshore has a very shallow gradient over most of its area, this results in up to 75 meters per decade retreat of the Mean Spring High Water line.

For this reason, in 2019, a ‘tipping point’ was reached whereby the amount of vegetation (primarily Common Saltmarsh grass Puccinnelia maritima) has increased dramatically.

Further to this, research is emerging that points to significant increases in coastal vegetation around the globe being both a measurable consequence of, as well as a natural response to climate change. Since Hoylake’s emerging dune system is extremely rare in the UK, it offers significant and highly valuable opportunities for meaningful research in this area.

In August 2019, Wirral Council sprayed up to 30,000 square metres of the beach in order to kill the grass and again suppress saltmarsh development this year; arguably the first in which embryo dune succession would have been very likely to take place, such as at Birkdale or nearby at Red Rocks Nature reserve.

Whilst ongoing saltmarsh suppression is popular among a lot of local people, it proved highly controversial on social media and became widely reported in the national mainstream press.

In response, the Local Authority agreed to stop any further glyphosate use and cease raking of grasses at Hoylake while assessments are undertaken and an expert panel advise on next steps.

It has been established that a geomorphological survey is required to provide baseline data. An HRA will also be required to inform future beach and coastal management activity.

The issue remains hugely divisive among local people. The “Sustainable Vision for Hoylake Beach” project has thus far focused on awareness raising of the issues and advocacy of alternative approaches to beach management, promoting dune succession as “an opportunity, not a threat”.

Now that the Local Authority have accepted that natural change is inevitable, future beach management needs to be considered.

Drainage issues are also a significant concern (see Appendix III) that point to both domestic and highway drainage issues, leading to pollution and risk to nature and the general public. These issues will also be resolved as part of this project.