Dunes and beach
The site managers are faced with the task of reconciling about 180,000 visitors a year with maintaining the biological interest of the site, whilst controlling undesirable processes and creating new habitats where necessary.
A high proportion of visitors come in summer to visit the beach. Their numbers are contained by limiting the parking areas, charging for parking and constructing clear direct access routes through the dunes. Indeed, their presence provides an important contribution to the reserve management funds in the shape of over £10,000 from parking fees per year.
Where possible, their interest is attracted to the more important ecological features of the site by nature trails, hides, information boards and a major exhibition centre at the southern end of the site. Access for disabled people is often limited by the physical nature of the site, but improvements are being made where possible and there are ambitious plans to create a full circular track accessible to wheelchairs thanks to the purchase of an additional field to the west of the road which will allow a return track to be constructed along this side of the reserve. There are also plans to create a reedbed and other aquatic habitats on this side of the road.
The tern colonies demand a high degree of management input during the breeding season. Under a Bird Sanctuary Order, temporary exclusion areas can be established to keep visitors at bay. The main breeding sites are fenced and wardened to prevent damage to the nests by people. An information hut is set up, complete with a powerful set of ex-U-boat binoculars from where people can appreciate terns without disturbing them. Predators, in particular Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) are a continuing problem and there is evidence to indicate that they become an increasing problem the longer the colony is established.
The outer dunes and saltmarshes require relatively little management. The newer dune system is large enough and far enough away from habitation, to allow it simply to develop naturally. On the inner dunes, Sea Buckthorn is controlled to restore duneland turf and in some areas Rose-bay Willowherb (Chamaenerion angustifolium) is considered to be a problem. It is controlled by a mixture of hand-pulling, strimming and grazing by the Trust's flock of Hebridean Sheep.
There are currently 21 sheep which are used for grazing in autumn and winter in particular with reduced numbers throughout the summer. Overall, the intention is to produce and maintain a mosaic of different habitats at different stages to try to cater for the whole spectrum of the reserve's inhabitants.
The freshwater marsh is grazed by cattle on licence with permanent stock fencing, though a highly variable water table makes it difficult to achieve much stability in the structure and composition of the vegetation. The various waterbodies around the reserve are managed by rotational clearances about once every five years, combined with more frequent light annual maintenance if required. The main invader is Sea Club-rush (Bolboschoenus maritimus), though the alien New Zealand Pygmy-weed (Crassula helmsii) has recently begun to be a problem.
In addition to the management there is a huge amount of biological recording carried out on the reserve and substantial annual reports are produced. The annual wildlife reports are available, for a small charge, from the Warden. If you wish further information, or to order your copy, you can e-mail the Warden, or see the feedback page for telephone number and address.