The Danish Sahara

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At the northern end of Denmark not far from the popular holiday area of Skagen you find a bit of a surprise. There is a large sandy area in the middle of the land which is drifting slowly along with the prevailing westerly winds. The sand dunes has been on the move for centuries and has gradually moved from the west coast of Jutland to its present location – the sand is moving slowly since 1900 it has moved a total distance of 1750 meters or around 1.1 mile. This gives an average speed of just short of 15 meters a year making a snail look like a top class sprinter.

Lakes behind the dune

With the current speed the sand will finally cover the highway to Skagen within a century or two and before this the railway to Skagen will have been covered by the sand. On its way it will destroy several areas where there is private property. You might think this would cause an effort to finally tame the moving sand to save the private properties and the railway and road. But no. the area of Råbjerg Mile is a protected area and the sand is allowed to move with the wind.

The large sand area

Råbjerg Mile is a relic from a former time. Back in 16th and 17th century the sand was moving on several locations around Denmark – particularly along the west coast of Jutland where there is generally the strongest winds and there is a continues contribution of new sands appearing along the long sandy beaches. The sand destroyed many villages and fields around the area and you find the reminders of this period in the Sandy Church just outside Skagen where the church was finally lost to the moving sand.

Trees slowly getting killed by the moving sand

The moving sand was a pestilence ruining many families who lost their fields and their livelihood – hence there was a wish of some sort of action to stop the moving sand. A huge effort were started to stop the moving sand around the country. They planted special grass which could grow in the sand and help slow its movement. The grass was complemented by the creation of a many new small plantations with a lot of trees being planted in the sandy ground. The trees and the grass finally stop the sand moving around the country and by the end of the 19th century there was only one sand dune still drifting across the land.

The sand stretching far

The locals were just about to start planting grass and trees to stop the sand from moving and saving the property in front of the sand dune. But at this time a new movement had started – which considered the moving sand a special feature of the Danish nature which should be preserved. This early environmental movement finally prevailed and the area immediately around the dune was made into a protected area. Latter still more land in front of the dune has been protected to secure the free passage of the dune. And by now it is clear the sand will be allowed to move until it will finally reach the East coast of Jutland where the sand will blow into the waters.

A little hill on the sand dune

The sand dune is pretty massive it has a total of 3.5 cubic meters of sand which covers a total area of 1 square kilometer. The highest point of the dune area is 20 meters above the ground putting it at a total elevation of around 40 meters which is the highest point of the area so you got a good view from the top.

The sand dune moves slowly it takes about 40 years from when the dune first covers a new spot of land till it finally has moved on. The moving sand leave a special landscape behind with a few lakes which start out without vegetation but gradually the vegetation move in and there is a new area around the lakes.

The top of the sand dune

The dune of Råbjerg Mile is a nice place to go out and hike around the sand to have a look. There are a lot of people but the area is pretty big and most people stay fairly close to the parking lot – so if you got the energy and walk a bit further you can actually have these parts of the dune for yourself and enjoy the environment in a very peaceful setting.


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