When did it start?
The ravages of sand drift meant that the people had to tear down their homes and move them further inland - often to moor areas nobody else wanted. In Rubjerg people moved to the southern part of the parish (Ulstrup), which was free of sand drift.
It is known that there were 18 farms in Rubjerg Parish in the mid 1500’s. 30 years later there were only 5 left. One can imagine how it must have felt to have to give up the family farm, which could easily have existed since Viking times. Many were probably stubborn and believed that the sand drift would stop after 10 or 20 years, but the fact is that it continued for 300 years.
Why did the sand drift begin?
There are likely two main causes: climate and man’s exploitation of nature. During the period 1400-1750 the temperature was ca. 2 degrees lower than today. This period was called the little ice age. The little ice age culminated in 1550-1700, when the climate was cold and windy. The glaciers grew in Scandinavia. There are reports of icebergs in the North Sea. The ocean level was ca. one metre lower, which resulted in broader beaches; where the sand could blow free. Near Rubjerg, where the sand came from the dune, the many storms very likely created greater subsidence; and the windy weather sent the freed sand inland.
In the period 1400-1750 all forests in Vendsyssel had been cut down, so there were no windbreaks. The cliff belonged to the community. The more the sand spread the more need there was to use the cliff for grazing, especially when fishing, on top of everything else, began to fail in the 1600’s. The cliff’s marram was used for thatching, basket-making, fodder, bedding, rope and fuel. The seeds were milled for meal, and the roots were used for fuel and brushes. The buckthorn thicket was cleared for new grazing areas and for fuel. The protective plant cover, which held the sand, disappeared/shrank, and it was now easy for the wind to blow the sand in over the land.