Barcelona's Hybrid Dunes


Through collaboration with administrations and stakeholders, this exemplar aims to learn to construct and maintain semi-fixed dunes on heavily used urban beaches to optimize the flows of ecosystem services. Dunes play a central role in coastal defence and protection against sea level rise linked to climatic change.


Coastal dunes are disappearing from the Catalan beaches due to urbanization and stabilization processes, and by erosion.  The stabilization leads to the substitution of dune flora by nitrophilous vegetation in a process that ends with the loss of dune relief, its biodiversity and the beaches’ resilience against storms and sea level rise. Ultimately the loss of functional beaches will have a big economic impact on real estate and the tourist-linked economy.

Project goals include:

-Learn to construct and maintain semi-stabilized dune ecosystems.

By stakeholder mapping and social research, learn how to shape social attitudes to make compatible the year-round intensive recreational use of beaches with the protection of the dunes. 

Case Study Location

Met beaches 41.266270° N, 2.019440° E

Calafell  41.11' ° N, 1.34' ° E

Location Description

The main project area, promoted by the Metropolitan administration of Barcelona, includes a beach 14km long on the Llobregat delta. This beach has a population of 64,000 inhabitants within 2km reach, and a metropolitan population over 4 million inhabitants.

The project at Calafell (50km south Barcelona) is promoted by the city council and has included the excavation of a coastal lagoon to get the sand to construct a new dune ridge




  • Àrea Metropolitana de Barcelona
  • Dirección General de Costas (Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación  y medio Ambiente)
  • City councils of metropolitan Barcelona and Calafell beaches
  • Residents
  • Beach visitors

Methods and Tools used in the case study

This project involved:

1.A construction project engineering and planting dunes with  Ammophila arenaria

2.An operational analysis of ecosystem services of the urban coastal sand dunes.

a.Social valuation

b.Stakeholder mapping


d.Economic Valuation



Key Findings

  • It is possible to construct and maintain semi-stabilized urban dunes.
  • In Barcelona metropolitan area, the role of dunes as barriers against sea level rise is much less relevant than its role on preserving the entire beach system.
  • It is easier to convince people to preserve dunes with the “no dunes, no beach” argument than just claiming interest on biodiversity.
  • On urban and peri-urban areas there is a high diversity of social stakeholders.

Success Factors

  • Involvement of administrations and local media interest.
  • Cost benefit analysis and economic valuation as clear determinants.
  • Dunes are an issue of interest for schools and for citizen science.

Key Challenges

Prohibition signals don’t work. There is a need for tailored information channels for different social groups.
There are a lot of trade-offs to deal with. Restaurant owners for example claiming to flatten dunes in Calafell just to keep clear line of sight to the sea.

The ecosystem services concept is highly contested (especially on urban natural areas). The dominant view is that 'public administration is tightly controlled by the green lobby' (who are against the participation of private economic activities on urban ecosystem management).  This view blocks adaptive management strategies based on robust science and limits new income sources. A broader methodological perspective of ecosystem services is needed.

Lessons Learned

  • Much easier the “no dunes, no beach” argument than the biodiversity interest of pioneer dunes.
  • The need of social stakeholder mapping to cope with trade-offs like unleashed dog-walking and excrement abandonment.
  • To discover new ways to remove environmental dogmas and correctness, and promote dunes as interesting environments.
  • To show the economic efficiency and profit of dune management; which could further convince citizens to avoid conflicting beach uses.

Additional Information

  • An “urban dune construction and management manual” is scheduled to be completed in January 2016.
  • An international workshop about urban dune ecosystem services management to be organised by a supra-municipal administration scheduled to take place in late 2016-early 2017.


Other Partners

Josep Lascurain

Meriwether Wilson.

Project Lead Contact details

Consultora de Servicios Globales Medioambientales (S.G.M)

Josep Lascurain