Top Travel Questions – Answered

Unveiling the Coastal Beauty: Discovering the Unique Grasses of Swanage Bay’s Dunes

What kind of grass grows on the dunes at Swanage Bay?

Welcome to Swanage Bay, a stunning coastal destination renowned for its picturesque dunes and sandy beaches. As well as being visually stunning, the dunes at Swanage Bay are home to a unique ecosystem that supports a wide variety of plant life. In this article we will explore the types of grasses that thrive on the dunes, their characteristics and their importance in the local environment. Join us on this botanical journey as we uncover the secrets of the grasses of Swanage Bay.

1. Marram grass (Ammophila arenaria)

Marram grass, scientifically known as Ammophila arenaria, is one of the most prominent and important grass species found on the dunes of Swanage Bay. This grass is well adapted to the challenging coastal conditions including high winds, salt spray and shifting sands. Its long, tough rhizomes enable it to stabilize and bind the loose sand, preventing erosion and the formation of gullies.
The leaves of marram grass are narrow, rolled, and covered with a waxy coating that helps minimize water loss due to the drying effects of the coastal environment. The extensive root system of marram grass plays a critical role in stabilizing dunes by trapping sand and creating a natural barrier against coastal erosion. In addition, the dense growth of marram grass provides a habitat for a variety of insects and small animals, contributing to the overall biodiversity of the dune ecosystem.

2. Lyme grass (Leymus arenarius)

Lyme grass, scientifically known as Leymus arenarius, is another grass species commonly found on the dunes of Swanage Bay. It shares many characteristics with marram grass and is often found growing alongside it. Lyme grass is a fast growing perennial that forms dense clumps and helps to stabilize the dunes through its extensive root system.
The leaves of lyme grass are long, narrow and sharp-edged, providing protection from grazing animals. This grass has adapted to the coastal environment by developing deep roots that allow it to access water deep beneath the sand. Lyme grass also has the ability to tolerate high levels of salt, making it well suited to the saline conditions of the dunes. Its presence on the dunes not only aids erosion control but also contributes to the overall aesthetic appeal of Swanage Bay.

3. Sea Couch Grass (Elymus pycnanthus)

Sea Couch Grass, scientifically known as Elymus pycnanthus, is a perennial grass species that thrives in the coastal regions of Swanage Bay. It is characterized by its distinctive blue-green leaves and robust growth habit. Sea Couch Grass has a creeping rhizome system that helps it spread rapidly across the dunes, binding the sand and preventing wind erosion.
A remarkable feature of sea couch grass is its ability to tolerate both salt spray and flooding, making it well adapted to the dynamic coastal environment. Its extensive root system not only stabilizes the dunes, but also plays an important role in preventing sand from migrating inland. Sea Couch Grass provides habitat for a variety of coastal wildlife including insects, birds and small mammals, contributing to the overall biodiversity of Swanage Bay.

4. Sand Sedge (Carex arenaria)

Sand sedge, scientifically known as Carex arenaria, is a perennial grass that plays an important role in the dune ecosystem of Swanage Bay. It is a tufted grass with slender, arching leaves that are pale green in color. Sand sedge is particularly adapted to the sandy and nutrient-poor conditions of the dunes where it forms dense tufts.
This grass has a deep root system that helps stabilize the sand and prevent erosion. Sand sedge also contributes to the accumulation of organic matter in the dunes as its decaying leaves add nutrients to the soil. Its dense growth provides shelter for small animals and helps create microhabitats within the dune ecosystem. Sand sedge is an important part of the vegetation mosaic that characterizes the dunes of Swanage Bay.

5. Sea Bindweed (Calystegia soldanella)

Sea Bindweed, scientifically known as Calystegia soldanella, is a perennial herbaceous plant that belongs to the Mustard family. Although it is not a grass, it is worth mentioning due to its prevalence on the dunes of Swanage Bay. Sea bindweed is a creeping vine with fleshy, arrow-shaped leaves and delicate pink flowers that bloom during the summer months.
This plant is well adapted to the coastal environment and can tolerate the harsh conditions of the dunes. Its trailing stems help stabilize the sand by acting as a natural binder. Sea bindweed has a deep root system that allows it to access water in the sandy soil, ensuring its survival in the nutrient-poor dune ecosystem. It also has a unique adaptation known as “folding leaves” that helps reduce water loss through transpiration, further enhancing its ability to thrive in the coastal environment.

Sea bindweed is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also serves as a food source for various insects and small mammals. Its presence on the dunes contributes to the overall biodiversity and ecological value of Swanage Bay.


The dunes of Swanage Bay are a haven for specialist grass species that have adapted to the challenging coastal conditions. Marram grass, lyme grass, sea couch grass, sand sedge and sea bindweed are some of the key grasses that contribute to the stability, biodiversity and aesthetics of the dune ecosystem.
These grasses play a vital role in preventing erosion, trapping sand, and creating microhabitats for a variety of wildlife. They have developed unique adaptations to survive in the sandy, nutrient-poor and saline conditions of the dunes. Understanding and appreciating the grasses of Swanage Bay not only enriches our knowledge of the local environment, but also fosters a deeper connection with the natural beauty of this coastal destination.


What kind of grass grows on the dunes at Swanage Bay?

The grass that typically grows on the dunes at Swanage Bay is known as Marram grass (Ammophila arenaria).

What are the characteristics of Marram grass?

Marram grass is a perennial grass that is well-adapted to coastal environments. It has long, stiff leaves that grow in dense tufts and can reach a height of up to one meter. The roots of Marram grass are extensive and help to stabilize the sand dunes.

Why is Marram grass important for dune ecosystems?

Marram grass plays a crucial role in the formation and maintenance of dune ecosystems. Its extensive root system helps to stabilize the sand and prevent erosion caused by wind and water. The grass also traps sand and helps to build up the dunes over time.

Are there any other types of vegetation found on the dunes at Swanage Bay?

Yes, besides Marram grass, there are other types of vegetation that can be found on the dunes at Swanage Bay. These may include beach grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and other plants that are adapted to the coastal environment.

Is Marram grass native to Swanage Bay?

Marram grass is not native to Swanage Bay or the UK. It is an introduced species that was planted on the dunes to stabilize them and prevent erosion. Despite being non-native, Marram grass has become an integral part of the coastal ecosystem in many areas.