Students on fieldwork at Aberffraw

preparing for fieldwork, Aberffraw

For many years Cynthia Burek (a GeoMon Trustee) has led the undergraduate and MSc students for the Biological Department of the University of Chester who were taken on a one-week fieldwork course to Anglesey. For the undergraduate level 5 Field Ecology, work focused on the Aberffraw coastal sand dunes. While the primary research undertaken was about the large rabbit warrens, rabbit behaviour and plant identification, supplementary research led by Dr. Cynthia Burek (a geologist) was undertaken on the effect of the physical nature of the sand on rabbit behaviour and plant distribution. The students as part of their work were required to look at the size, shape, lustre and sorting of the individual sand grains in transects away from the beach inland or in quadrants around burrow entrances.

students at work on transects across the dunes

The questions they addressed were:

  • Are their any significant difference in the above sand structural criteria as they moved away from the beach?
  • Did the sand grains become more frosted because of wind action?
  • Did the sand grains become smaller as they were moved inland?
  • Did the sand structure effect the construction of rabbit holes?
  • Did the orientation of the rabbit burrow’s entrance reflect the dominant wind direction?
  • Was there any relationship between the type of vegetation and the sand size?
examining plant diversity

Over the years a slight correlation between distance from beach inland was noticed in lustre and shape but not size of the sand. Rabbit hole entrance orientation, although affected by the predominant wind direction, was more dictated by vegetation and the location of sand dune blowouts.

The trapping of the sand grains by the marram grass which stabilised the dunes, also affected the location of the rabbit burrows. There were no burrows on the loose sand close to the beach as might be suspected from common knowledge as there is no stability in loose dry sand. However as you moved inland into the marram grass area and beyond the mobile sand dunes the number of rabbit burrows increased significantly.

coastal dunes grow by trapping wind blown sand from the extensive sandy beach

The MSc students used the Aberffraw coastal sand dunes as an example of one of 6 different habitats they studied on their field methods module.

At Aberffraw, the coastal sand dunes which house the extensive rabbit burrows, form a food source for protected birds of prey. This is a special location and deserves to be protected. It should be noted that public access is along the beach and river but the dunes themselves are privately owned and permission must be obtained to undertake and research work there.

(Text and all images supplied by Cynthia Burek)

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