Globally vegetation cover on coastal sand dunes has increased since at least the 1950s. With the aim of restoring or increasing biodiversity, land managers in several countries have removed vegetation and/or reprofiled dune slopes to reinvigorate geomorphic activity. However, the longevity of these interventions can be relatively short (on the order of 5 to 10 years), and further active management is required. Hypotheses for controls on geomorphic activity on dunes have frequently suggested that wind speed is the most important controlling factor. Here we show dune slope to be the best predictor of bare sand at four predominantly vegetated coastal sand dunes in England and Wales. We suggest that bare sand on steep dune slopes is maintained by three important factors: (1) Wind erosion, due to topographic acceleration (2) Granular avalanches of unconsolidated sediment and (3) Rotational slumping of unstable slopes. Our results indicate that where land managers wish to ‘rejuvenate’ areas of bare sand, efforts should focus on steep windward dune slopes and reprofiling of the dune slope should mimic the concave profiles of active slope faces on active parabolic dunes with an overall slope angle of between 18° and 23° from the dune toe to the crest.