Developing community-based monitoring guidelines for coastal sand dunes

The Dunes Trust has completed the first year of a 3-year project to develop national community-based guidelines for monitoring coastal sand dunes and restoration programmes. The aim is to provide Coastcare groups and managing agencies with scientifically robust, easy-to-use guidelines for quantifying the status of their dunes and to determine whether restoration outcomes are meeting objectives. The 3-year project is funded by the Ministry for the Environment’s Community Environment Fund with cofunding and support from the Dunes Trust and its research partners including councils, the Department of Conservation and Coast Care groups.


On-site field demonstration of proposed monitoring methods on dunes of Caroline Bay, Timaru with staff from the Timaru District Council. Project partners including councils and Coast Care groups nationwide are involved in evaluating and refining quantitative methods for assessing dune vegetation cover and condition.


This project works with community groups, councils and other interest groups to develop a range of scientifically robust and easy-to-use methods to monitor effectiveness of dune restoration and changes in the state of the dune environment over time.

The 3-year project involves several components:

  1. 1. Consultation with coastal communities and managing agencies:
  • identifying needs and questions to be addressed by coastal dune monitoring.
  • determining priorities for solutions.
  • assessing issues and practicalities for effective community-based monitoring.
  1. 2. Existing monitoring methods:
  • identifying and reviewing the range of dune monitoring work presently conducted nationwide and elsewhere including relevant research.
  • buildinging on recent Envirolink review, evaluate relevant monitoring approaches used in other ecosystems.
  • identifying strengths and weaknesses of existing approaches with participating communities, interest groups and managing agencies.
  1. 3. Design and trial practical field-based monitoring methods:
  • In collaboration with communities and agencies the project involves designing and validating a range of methods for monitoring dune condition and state (e.g. dune vegetation communities, indigenous biodiversity, degree of human disturbance, impact of animal browsing, weeds).
  • This includes easy-to-use systematic methods and indicators identifying and helping prioritise areas of degradation, threats and restoration options.
  • Monitoring will comprise trialling and reviewing at a minimum of 30 sites nationwide.
  1. 4. Design and development of system(s) for data management:
  • building and/or aligning where possible with existing appropriate data management systems (including NatureWatch) including storage, retrieval, analysis, interpretation with specialist web-based database developers.
  • liaising with coastal communities and agencies for rapid and simple web based system for recoding site and plant measurements, and accessing results.
  • designing datasheets and templates for online and field usage.
  1. 5. Technology transfer
  • publish a scientifically robust guide in the form of two articles for the Dunes Trust Coastal Restoration Handbook aimed at 1) quantifying the current status of dunes, and 2) determining whether restoration programmes are meeting objectives (including data storage, analysis) and make available online on Dunes Trust and relevant management agency websites.
  • minimum of 6 field based consultative workshops per year setting up and undertaking monitoring using different methods.
  • project progress updates for newsletters and websites for Dunes Trust, local Coast Care, councils, project partners.

Year 1 progress

  • Field-based workshop, consultation and liaison in the development and testing of robust but user-friendly monitoring methods has been undertaken in regions from Northland to south Canterbury. This has included councils, DOC and local coast care and beach care groups in Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Wellington, Christchurch and Timaru.
  • A review of existing monitoring guidelines used in other ecosystems has been completed and information is being used in the development of a dunes monitoring system. These guides include the Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Kit (WETMAK), the Stream Health Monitoring and Assessment Kit (SHMAK), the Estuary Monitoring Toolkit, Mangrove Monitoring Kit, and Forest Monitoring and Assessment Kit (FORMAK).
  • A range of other monitoring methods used at the science and large scale survey level were also reviewed such as the RECCE method for decribing NZ vegetation, natural environment regional monitoring programmes and transect surveys, the NZ carbon monitoring system, and sand dune inventories.
  • For assessing dune condition including vegetation cover, dune profiles, and impacts of users and pest animals, a Step-Point Method has been developed and field tested. This is based on Ian Atkinson’s method he developed for surveying open vegetation communities on volcanic dunes in the central North Island.
  • The dunes version developed and under testing as part of this project involves recording the dominant species at fixed intervals along transects perpendicular to the shore using a 20 cm sampling hoop. The sampling point distance along transects can vary according to the degree of variation and complexity of vegetation cover and the width of the dune sampled.


The Step-Point Method under development and refinement at the transition between the ground cover zone and the shrub zone on a backdune, Cooks Beach, Coromandel



  • Developing user-friendly methods for measuring dune restoration initiatives including performance of plantings and effectiveness of maintenance of weed growth and pest animal control are under development.
  • The design of an easy-to-use interactive system for data management for Coast Care groups and management agencies has been initiated and progressing this will be a major the focus in the second year of the project.


Easy-to-use methods for monitoring success of planting programmes by Coast Care groups is also under development



How you can become involved?

We have already identified and initiated project planning with some Coast Care groups and managing agencies in several regions for setting up and testing methods for monitoring both dune condition and restoration activities. If your group or agency is keen to be involved in this project please contact the Dunes Trust Coordinator ( or the Project Manager David Bergin (

New funding application to Community Conservation Partnership Fund successful

 We have recently received news of this successful application.

The Trust works closely with the full gamut of stakeholders with interests in the coastal environment. This funding will enable the Trust to extend this by:

  • Linking Coast Care groups and affected landowners with relevant public agencies, funding bodies and subject matter specialists.
  • Encouraging inter-group interactions and workshops.
  • Encouraging stakeholder networking by organising field trips and on-site “show and tells”.
  • Training and resourcing groups in technical best practice, the recruitment and retention of volunteers, resource management legislation, project management and fundraising.
  • Promoting best practice with local authorities, including providing support to existing Coast Care coordinators, to ensure consistent, high quality and latest information transfer.
  • Assisting groups with their interactions with the public, landowners, iwi and public agencies.
  • Complementing and enhancing the existing Coast Care coordinator roles in collaboration with agencies in regions where these occur.