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Sea, Sand and People. An Environmental History of Coastal Dunes

Project description

A closer look at the afforestation of sand dunes

Long stretches of the European coastlines are bordered by sand dunes – mounds of sand formed by the wind. Sand dunes can provide effective protection to the land, people and housing from storms, cyclones and tsunamis. However, for centuries they were considered dangerous since the sand blown by the wind was taken inland, destroying villages and farms. In the 18th century, dunes were trapped with trees and converted into forest areas. The EU-funded DUNES project will explore the origins, reasons and means of sand dune afforestation. It will also shed light on the impacts of the creation of new landscapes on local communities and ecosystems. The findings will offer an innovative global history of coastal dunes.


Dunes are now protected environments, being top priority for coastal managers, because of their important role as coastal defences. But, it was not like that in the past.
For centuries dunes were considered unproductive and dangerous. The sand blown by the wind was taken inland, invading fields, silting rivers and destroying villages. In the eighteenth century, a strategy was developed to fight against the dunes: trapping them with trees, with the double purpose of preventing the destruction of arable land and increasing their economic value converting them into forest areas. Different governments, in different countries supported the immobilization of the shifting sands. The strategy, developed in Europe, was taken to other places in the world. These works caused profound changes in vast coastal areas transforming arid landscapes of sandy dunes into green tree forests.
This project aims to explore human-environment relations in coastal areas worldwide, since the eighteenth century until today, through the study of dunes as hybrid landscapes. Based on selected case-studies and comparative approaches, the project will focus on the origins, reasons and means of dunes afforestation; the impacts of the creation of new landscapes to local communities and ecosystems; and the present situation of dunes as coastal defences and rehabilitated environments. The final purpose is to produce an innovative global history of coastal dunes, combining knowledges from both Humanities and Social Sciences and Physical and Life Sciences, which has never been done.
Supported by an interdisciplinary team, this research will result in new developments in the field of the Environmental History studies; provide relevant knowledge considering the need of efficient management solutions to adapt to the expected mean sea level rise; and stimulate environmental citizenship by disseminating the idea that the future of the world coasts depends on today’s actions.

Host institution

Faculdade de letras da Universidade de Lisboa
Net EU contribution
€ 1 062 330,00
Alameda da Reitoria (Cidade Universitaria)
1600-214 Lisboa

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Continente Área Metropolitana de Lisboa Área Metropolitana de Lisboa
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 062 330,00

Beneficiaries (1)