The present landscape of Formby documents the constant changes in climate and sea level which has occurred since the Ice Age about 12,000 years ago. Between and beneath the dunes formed slack silts and peats. Pollen and animals remains preserved in these have indicated how Mesolithic hunters; some 7,000 years ago began clearing the birch and pine woodlands.
From the Neolithic, settlers have used the area for animal husbandry. The earliest records are the medieval land grants to Cockersand Abbey for the grazing of cattle. Sheep and horses are known to have been kept at Ainsdale and Ravenmeals from about 1200 whereas the dunes were used as warrens for rabbits, historically an important food source until about 1750.
Efforts at cultivation, which depends upon the successful stabilisation of the dunes (by protecting with pine plantation and marram), are comparatively recent. The little group of dry ditched fields at Wicks lane grew rye in the 1930s, but these and others have only commercially produced asparagus.
Stormy periods, such as occurred in the 14th century, caused the dunes to move. Old town Formby got swamped about 1550 and as the sand moves away other long-buried sites are revealed. The fossil pine forest at the mouth of the Alt and the footprints of prehistoric man and the deer and primitive cattle they pursued across ancient estuarine silts, occasionally visible on the foreshore, are examples.
8000 years ago sea levels increased and flooded large areas of Britain. The wide Lancashire plain was created at this time. Layers of mud were deposited under the sea. After sea levels dropped layers of peat built up. The rich soils produced mean the Lancashire plain is now an important agricultural area.
The dunes formed 300 – 400 years ago, during a mini ice age, when sea levels dropped. Sand ridges developed, sand piled up over strand line. Sand dunes only form on beaches where there is dry sand, which can be blown by the wind.
Manorial laws introduced to protect marram grass, making it an offence punishable by fines to cut marram grass. Law still enforceable today. Tenants also had to plant marram grass as part of their manorial duties. Marram grass is important at this time because:
* Created a suitable habitat for rabbits which were an important source
* Stabilised dunes and prevented sea flooding the flat land behind.
Britain’s first lifeboat station was built in Formby in 1776, now buried by sand.
Coastal line extended 220metres out to sea with formation of new dune systems. Ravenmeols village buried by sandstorms.
Formby-by-the-sea, Victorian holiday resort built with promenade, now 360m inland. 1840 – 1930 landowners planted pine trees to further stabilise the dunes and trap more sand.
Since 1906 coastline retreated over 500 metres in place due to wave erosion. River Alt changed its course badly eroding the coastline.
1912 – 28 coast at Blundellsands eroded at an average of 10m per year, several houses had to be demolished in 1932 before coast was protected by tin slag from Bootle smelting works. Later, rubble from bombsites was used and the Alt was diverted away from the coast by a training wall which still exists.