Sand dune - Country Report, Poland
This article on the sand dunes of Poland, is a revised country report from the 'Sand Dune Inventory of Europe' (Doody ed. 1991) . The 1991 inventory was prepared under the umbrella of the European Union for Dune Conservation [EUDC]. The original inventory was presented to the European Coastal Conservation Conference, held in the Netherlands in November 1991. It attempted to provide a description of the sand dune vegetation, sites and conservation issues throughout Europe including Scandinavia, the Atlantic coast and in the Mediterranean.
An overview article on the distribution of European sand dunes provides links to the other European country reports. These represent chapters from updated individual country reports included in the revised, 2nd Edition of the 'Sand Dune Inventory of Europe' prepared for the International Sand Dune Conference “Changing Perspectives in Coastal Dune Management”, held from the 31st March - 3rd April 2008, in Liverpool, UK (Doody ed. 2008).
Status: Authors: Original authors J Patrick Doody & Hanna Piotrowska; revised by Tomasz Łabuz 2008; additional information Bird (The World’s Coasts: Online)
Extensive sand dunes occur along the coast of Poland in the southern Baltic. These have developed since the middle of the Holocene extensive modification by human action has taken place over the last 2,000 years. Natural or almost natural dune processes and sand accumulation on the coast occurs in only a few places, starting from the East: Vistula Sandbar near outlet of the Vistula River, cape of the Hel Peninsula, some parts of the Łebska Sandbar and two thirds of the Świna Gate Sandbar (Łabuz 2005b).
Distribution and type of dune
There are approximately 35,000ha of dune on the 464km of the Polish coastline (428km and 36km of the Hel Peninsula). Sand dunes make up 80% of the coastline of Poland with short sections of eroding cliff in between. Coastal currents and the prevailing wind influence the direction and amount of transported material and hence the orientation of the dunes along the coast. There are two main types of the dune coast:
1. those built by sandy dunes, mostly moving landward due to erosion of the foredune;
2. dunes where a typical dune ridge is not present and shores build seaward or along the coast as sandy barriers. Some of these are still accumulative coasts (Borowka 1990), (Łabuz 2005b).
Rarely are dunes present in the front of the cliff coast or blown over cliff (morenic) deposits.
The predominant dune types are sand bars and spits which lie parallel to the coast. There are two types of depositional sandy barriers (narrow and wide). The narrow barriers are less than 0.5m wide and capped by a single foredune behind a rather narrow beach (20–30m wide). Wide barriers (1.0-2.5km wide) capped by a complex of parabolic and barchan-like dunes, divided from the sea by several coastal ridges. The dunes on the land are generally 20-30m high, the highest reaching 40-56m on the Łeba Sandbar, which is 48km long and extends between Osetnica in the east and Rowy in the west. Such dunes are also on the Vistula Sandbar, Łeba Sandbar and Świna Gate Sandbar. Only on Łeba Sandbar do these dunes become mobile (average movement speed reach 4m/s) the rest are fixed by pine forests. The shoreline of the barriers mostly has dune ridges, partly fixed by plants. Due to coast erosion, their onshore slope has a cliffed shape. More stable coastal dunes are usually 3-8m high (rarely 10m), while on accumulative part of coast reach 5m and represented by developing foredunes.
Sand is composed of 95% quartz grains with low calcium carbonate content. The sand contains about 86% of fine sand and 13% medium. Less than 1% is very fine sand dominated by heavy minerals. Beach and embryo dunes built up with coarse sand (5-15%).
This has a profound effect on the way in which the dunes develop. Generally, they show an increase in erosive shorelines over accretionary ones, with a narrowing of the beach and steepening of the shore profile. The average retreat of the dune coast is 0.1m/yr (Zawadzka-Kahlau 1999), exceeding 2-6m after heavy storm surge in some places (Łabuz 2005b). Between storm seasons, dunes may be restored but in many places, there is not enough sand on the beaches. Accumulation processes caused for example development of the two dune ridges during last 20 years on the Świna Gate Sandbar (Łabuz 2005a). In addition, accumulative processes are causing supply of the sand for the moving dunes on the Łeba Sandbar.
Human activities have influenced this natural development for at least 2,000 years (Piotrowska 1989a, (Piotrowska 1995). Periodic forest fires were the first major influence, though since medieval time’s total deforestation of some sand dune areas has taken place. By the 18th century, most of the natural dune forests were destroyed and Aeolian processes became dominant. This deforestation indirectly caused the development and migration of the parabolic dunes, such as on the Swina, Łeba, Sarbska and Vistula bars, in effect increasing the diversity of dune forms. The planting of pine began in the middle of the 19th century and today much of the landscape is afforested. Also often plantations (activity of the dune stabilisation and protection against deflation processes) of the pioneer grasses (mostly Ammophila arenaria) are causing that dune habitats are poorer. Another human activity that is causing dunes destabilisation is tourist impact (health resorts and illegal paths). In some places negative sand budget of the coast is caused by harbour piers and structures of the coastal protection that are hold up sand transportation along the coast (Łabuz 2005b).
The natural vegetation occurs as a sequence of plant communities growing on the mobile foredunes and grey dunes (Figure). The older dunes are covered with deciduous forest. However, the preoccupation with sand stabilisation has resulted in the majority of the dune landscapes being planted with pine. Thus, today there are very few areas where there is a natural expression of the vegetation except in the earliest stages of succession.
The shore includes scattered individuals or small patches of Ammophila arenaria, Leymus arenarius, Honckenya peploides, Salsola kali and Cakile maritima - growing on upper beach. Honckenya peploides is the first plant causing accumulation of the embryo dunes on upper beach (up to 1m high), (Łabuz 2002b). On the West part of coast appear Elytrigia juncea (former: Agropyron junceum), very rare and vanishing species.
The predominant dune forming species are Ammophila arenaria, Calammophila baltica and Leymus arenarius - they are growing on very mobile surfaces. Festuca rubra ssp. arenaria and Lathyrus maritimus are also common, growing on more stable surfaces.
Acid dune grassland
Dune grassland is dominated by Corynephorus canescens, Carex arenaria and several Cladonia species. Other species such as Helichrysum arenarium, Hieracium umbellatum var dunense, Sedum acre and Jasione montana var. littoralis occur in small numbers. In the west part of the coast, these habitats are richer than in east part (Piotrowska 2002). Different plant habitats are on open surface and under willow shrubs (Salix sp.), (Łabuz, Grunewald 2007). In runnels between dune ridges appear halophilous plants such as Honckenya peploides.
Dune heath. Patches of heath vegetation with Calluna vulgaris and Empetrum nigrum occur in moist deflation hollows. These species are also an important component of the open pine forests. They are mostly developed on middle and Eastern part of coast.
The final stage of succession is woodland. The natural pine forest develops on the poor podzolic soils, one of the four types of Empetro nigri-Pinetum (Wojterski 1993) with Enpetrum nigrum, Deschampsia flexuosa grass and different types of mosses and lichens (for moist and dry forest). On the richer substrates, especially on the low dunes, acid deciduous forest with Betula pendula and Quercus robur occurs (rare habitats). Exceptionally on the Łeba Sandbar the moist pine forest with Erica tetralix and Myrica gale is present (Piotrowska 1989b).
The extent of planted pine forest has severely reduced the natural dune landscape so that today this is virtually restricted to the early stages of succession. The only extensive natural dune area occurs within the Slowinski National Park (c. 950ha) and on Swina Gate Sandbar (Sites 1 and 2). Slowinski National Park is unique on a European scale because of the presence of high (to 40m) active mobile dunes and the extensive deflation fields in which rare plant communities typical of moist sand develop. Swina Gate Sandbar is almost 16km long barrier with wide natural pioneer plants habitats on dunes and on upper beach where human impact is still low. There are up to 6 youngest dune ridges covered by 80-100m wide pioneer habitats where fast accumulation of the coast occurs. A description of polish coastal dunes is available on the web @ http://polishdunes.szc.pl. The location of the sites appears in the Figure and they are listed in the table below. A more detailed description of the more important sites is also given.
NP, National Park; BR, Biosphere Reserve; NR, Nature Reserve; LP, Landscape Park, Natura 2000 - European Union, Natura 2000 Special Area of Conservation or Special Protection Area.
The Swina Gate Sandbar - 16km long barrier consisted of two spits Karsibor and Przytor. The sandbar also continues on the German side along the Uznam coast. It started to develop about 5,000 years ago, when the marine transgression reached its maximum. The shape of the present coastal landscape is the result of a continuous process. Both spits have appeared because of sea sand accumulation coming from the abraded moraine part of the Wolin and the Uznam Islands. Dune ridges formed during different accumulation stages cover the entire sandbar. The accumulation of sand led to the development of the spits and to the separation of the Szczecin Lagoon from the Pomeranian Bay. The oldest dunes (brown) date back to the Atlantic period -5 000 years BP are low, up to 8m above mean sea level (amsl). The younger dunes called yellow dunes (6-10 high) developed during the 5th - 15th centuries. Their ridges lie crosswise to the present coastline. More recently (the 15th century) the development of the youngest white dunes took place. Human activities, which at that time reached a very high level, led to deforestation and the remobilization of formerly fixed older dunes. Consequently, aeolian processes caused formation of big migrating dunes - transverse, wandering dunes that move over yellow dunes. Their heights reach 22m amsl. Later on, the newly planted pine forests stabilised the sand once more. After the breakwaters were built (the 18th century), a large extension of the coast occurred in the neighbourhood of the outlet of the Świna Channel. Today because of abrasion along the eastern part of the Przytor spit, not far from Międzyzdroje, yellow dunes and high transverse ridges are closest to the sea. The youngest dunes, termed the ‘white dunes’, have been forming since the 17th century. Their heights reach 8m amsl. On the Wolin Island the complex of the youngest dunes are at their widest. In the West part of the sandbar ridges are smaller and closer to each other, thus depressions between them are narrower. Moreover, the beach is extensively covered by small mounds. In the central part of the coast, ridges are higher but narrower. Respectively, depressions between them are wider. The beach is wide and covered with a large number of plants and dune hillocks. In the eastern part, dunes are also high but tend to be narrow, with steep seaside slope being the most frequent. Depressions and beach are narrow. There are not so many plants as in other areas. Primarily, the middle part of sandbar on the Wolin Island shows accumulative character of coast and dunes. Other parts are eroding (such as areas near Międzyzdroje) or under human impact (Świnoujście and Międzyzdroje). Along the whole sandbar on The Wolin Island during last 20 years, there are two new foredunes (up to 5m amsl). The biggest rate of accretion on the upper beach is 0.65m3/m2 during spring. The foredune development is smaller and in spring increases up to 0.45 m3/m2. The rate of the dune growth during last 5 years reached 2.5m and upper beach 2m (Łabuz 2003a, 2004, 2005a.
The old dune ridges are covered by pine forest. Youngest dunes in 75% are afforested but covered by very rich Helichryso-Jasionetum and Elymo-Ammophiletum habitats. In addition, very rare halophilous plants cover one third of the upper beach. This area is without human impact and should be protected because of very wide habitats of pioneer plants, which are one of the widest on the Polish coast.
The Dziwnowska Sandbar is 11km long. Its western part on the Wolin Island is build by one-two foredunes up to 10m high. The first ridge is covered by pioneer habitats and the other has pine forest. The east part is narrow and mostly erosive with a cliffed foredune (up to 7m high) covered by young pine plantation or by human structures (houses and hydrotechnical measures). Due to erosion, beaches and dunes are rebuilt by nourished sand. Only close to the breakwater of the Dziwna channel outlet is accumulation still occurring. There, new foredunes are still developing (along 1km of the coast) and covered by dune grasses (Labuz 2005b, 2007b).
On the Trzebiatowskie coast (between sections of cliffed coast) is one long dune coast (38km) starting from Niechorze (where there is the short and narrow sandbar of Lake Liwia Łuza) through Mrzezyno (River Rega outlet), Dzwirzyno (outlet from Resko Przymorskie Lake) to Kołobrzeg town (Rriver Parsenta outlet). The morphodynamics of this dune coast changes along its length. Some of the sections are accumulative or stable other one erosive. The rate of erosion reaches up to 0.5m/yr. In Mrzezyno, Dzwirzyno or Kolobrzeg during the last 7 years erosion reached to 2-3m after every storm. Dunes of this coast are partly in an advanced stage of erosion and covered by old pine forest. In some places dunes are protected by concrete and steel bands (Kolobrzeg) or artificial dyke (Dzwirzyno) and beaches are nourished every 2-3 years (Dzwirzyno, Mrzezyno, Kolobrzeg), (Łabuz 2005b, 2005d, 2007).
On the middle part of the coast are situated several narrow barriers with lakes behind. Some of them (Jamno and Bukowo Lakes Sandbars) are narrow with or without forested foredune (Łabuz 2003b). Behind the dune belt low-lying land with meadows, swamps or a lake occurs. In places where coastal villages appear dunes are protected by concrete or thetrapods bands (Mielno, Lazy, Darlowek, Ustka). In the past, storm surges broke through these barriers. Kopań Lake Sandbar is another rudimentary dune bar, partly without a foredune, where the coast reaches a height only 2-2.5m amsl. In the narrowest part, this sandbar is 90m wide. In 2004, construction of an artificial 4m high dyke took place to protect barrier and lake against storm surges. Among these barriers only Wicko Lake Sandbar is wide, here behind 2-3 foredunes ridges are forested parabolic dunes (e.g. Modelskie Dunes) up to 40m high (Łabuz 2005b).
The Łeba Sandbar from Rowy on the West to the Łeba town on the East is 34km. It contains migrating dunes form dividing Lake Łebsko and Gradno, meadows and swamps from the coast. On the Łeba Bar there are up to four foredunes, 4-15m high, behind the beach. The youngest foredune is covered mostly with a pioneer grass Ammophila arenaria, the older with mountain dwarf pine, Pinus mughus, and the oldest with Pinus silvestris. To the south (i.e. landward) of the foredunes are 7 km2 of arcuate, parabolic and barchan-like dunes. On the sandbar Miszalski (1973) found 78 large dune forms with a maximum height of 50m. Among them are parabolic dunes (63%) and barchans (32%). Half of them are vegetated with less than 50% cover. Such lack of vegetation results in the dunes migrating in an eastward direction at an average rate 4my-1. Between dunes are deflation hollows, and forms. Ridges are oriented WNW-ESE. About 20-30 barchans on an area of 5.5km2 are without vegetation. On the Łeba Barrier they are partly forested, but west of Łeba village there are nine barchan-like mobile dunes, rising to 42m above sea level. Generally the dunes migrate east and southeast at an average of 10m/yr (Miszalski 1973, Borowka 1980, 1990); they are burying forests and invading lakes. In historical times these moving dunes buried some human buildings and roads (Miszalski 1973). The efforts undertaken to stabilise the dunes ended without any positive results. Today accumulation on the beach is the main source of the sand for the migrating dunes.
Within the dunes several fossil soils of different ages (up to 3,000 years B.P.) may be traced (Tobolski 1995), indicating phases of at least local stability with a vegetation cover. These allow reconstruction of the history of the interplay between Aeolian processes and vegetation development. Dune formation began about 3,000-3,300 years ago. The dunes were covered with oak forest (3,000-2,000 B.P.), then beech forest (2,000-1,000 B.P.). Since 1,500 B.P. this has been gradually replaced by pines (Tobolski 1995). The 15th century was the last phase of development due to human activity. The dunes were built with sand supplied to the beach. In some places this supply has come to an end and beach sand is being lost seaward. In many places, the foredune is cut back as a sand cliff, such erosion occurring mainly during storm surges. Many different habitats and unique species resulted in the whole sandbar becoming a National Park. The whole area of the Slowinski National Park is located within a range shaped by the youngest Vistulian glaciation. The predominant features of the Park’s landscape are coastal lakes, beaches and dunes of different relative heights. The Czolpino dune, which is overgrown with the pine forest, is the highest (56.5m). The other dunes are Stilo dune (45.7m), Gory Wschodnie with Lacka dune (42.5m) and Lesna dune (25.7m). The total area of the Park is 18,618ha. Of this area, water covers 53.9 %, forests 24.5 %, beaches and dunes - 5.1 %, swamps and moors 7.7 %, meadows and pastures - 8.1 %.
The Hel Spit is about 36km long. It extends east from the Swarzewo morainic plateau and separates Puck Lagoon and the Puck Bay from the sea. Its 15km western section is relatively flat and narrow (only 100–300m), and its single foredune has been completely eroded in few places by increasingly frequent storm surges during the past 20 years. In order to protect the spit the foredune and the beach have been artificially restored by periodic nourishment, using sand dredged from Puck Bay. East of the village of Kuznica the spit gradually broadens to 3km at the eastern tip where there are foredunes, parallel to the beach, up to 20m in height and backed by several oblique dune ridges. The cape of the peninsula is very dynamics place where fast accumulation and foredunes development is clearly visible. Dunes localised inland are forested and these coastal are covered by acid dune meadow and by pioneer grasses, Elymo-Ammophiletum.
The length of the Vistula Sandbar in Poland from the border to the Vistula River outlet is about 50km. The Vistula Spit has three dune generations. The inner dunes are longitudinal brown dunes about 4m high, located mainly in southern part of the spit. In the middle longitudinal and parabolic yellow dunes are up to 25m high and on the north coast there are white foredunes up to 4m high (Mojski 1995). The highest dunes reach 49m near Krynica Morska. In historic times these dunes were moving (overwhelming human villages). In some places due to erosion these high dunes are building coast – here coastal dunes may reach 25m amsl - e.g. between Katy Rybackie and Krynica Morska. The fastest accumulation and development of the foredunes is characteristic for the Vistula outlet near Mikoszewo. There are up to 4 young and low foredunes (similar to the beach ridges) covered by pioneer grasses with halophilous plants in the runnels.
Human activity over the last 2,000 years has had a profound effect on the dune landscapes of Poland. The erosion, which the planting of pine forests was set to overcome, has reduced the natural wooded dunes to such an extent that they represent a much impoverished nature conservation resource. Despite the massive and long-term commitment to stabilisation, the dunes continue to erode, suggesting that the natural erosive forces may be of overwhelming importance. In addition to the natural processes, large-scale recreational pressures, especially in the foredunes, have an adverse impact on the nature conservation interest of the dunes. Due to these factors natural dune habitats and plants communities are being still degraded. Only in few places are pioneer habitats with grasses, halophilous plants and acid dune grassland still present. All the habitats of the Polish coastal dunes are endangered (Herbich & Warzocha 1999). The two figures show the relationship between the current coastal sand dune dynamic and the relationship with vegetation development.
Protection of the coastline is the responsibility of the Maritime Boards whose technical and biological methods of stabilisation are not always successful. Slowinski National Park is the only area in Poland where natural dune dynamics are allowed to develop without attempts to stabilise them. This area includes the Leba Bar reserve (3,532ha). Natural dunes are also partly protected on the Hel Spit and Vistula Bar Landscape Parks and on the Sarbska Bar Nature Reserve. Some of the habitats are also protected as Natura 2000 sites. These areas do not completely cover the endangered natural coastal dune environment.
On the present day Polish coastal dunes, development is affected by heavy storms and human activities play a significant role. Heavily urbanised coastal inland areas are endangered by an increasing sea level and frequency of storm surges. Endangered areas are situated up to + 2.5-3m over mean sea level. These areas are localised on sandy barrier lowlands, behind dune belt. Average sea level (500cm for the Polish coast) is still increasing. The oscillations of the sea level reaches 3.2m in Świnoujście, 3.4m in Kołobrzeg and 2.6m in Gdańsk. The physical situation of the dunes is very different from those occurring further north in the Baltic since on the Polish coast sea level is rising relative to the land rather than subsiding. Medium trend of its growth ranges from 0.8 to 1.4mm/yr. The maximum sea levels at the Polish coast are caused by cyclonic circulation during NW, N, NE winds blowing in land direction. Strong surges seldom occur but are mostly visible during autumn-winter season. The biggest were noted in 19th century with water level 2m above average level (for example on 10th February 1874 water reached 696cm). They always cause dune erosion and water overtopping of the low dune ridges (up to 5m amsl). Also low parts of the barriers (2-3m) are overflowing from the ground during long period of high water (Łabuz 2005b). Average wind velocities exceed 3.8ms-1 in summer and 5 to 7ms-1 in winter. The strongest winds during storm surges exceed 15 to 20ms-1. Such winds, mostly during autumn and winter, cause deflation and accumulation of sand up to 200m in a landward direction. Further information is available in ‘Dry Coastal Ecosystems’ (Wojterski 1993, pages 146-155)<refWojterski, T., 1993. Dry coastal ecosystems of Poland. In: E. van der Maarel, ed., Ecosystems of the World. Dry coastal ecosystems, Polar Regions and Europe, Elsevier, Uppsala, 145-163.</ref>
Original contact: Prof. Hanna Piotrowska, POLAND.
Revised text: Tomasz A. Łabuz, PhD, Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Szczecin, Mickiewicza 18 str., 70-383, Szczecin, POLAND, firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information: Ecosystems of the World 2A Dry Coastal Ecosystems, Polar regions and Europe (Wojterski 1993) Wojterski, T., 1993. Dry coastal ecosystems of Poland. In: Ecosystems of the World 2A Dry Coastal Ecosystems, Polar regions and Europe, ed., van der Maarel, Elsivier, 146-154.
Web site: http://polishdunes.szc.pl
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