An ancient feast, and other surprises

29th December 2007, Saturday

Walking across the shingle on the Lydd Ranges coast on Wednesday I came across a horde of cockle shells near Galloways, with the odd dog whelk thrown in. They had been dropped in a cluster, and judging by the numbers of slow growing lichens darkening these pale shells they are clearly an old feature. Is this the result of a bird (perhaps a gull or a crow) gathering the shells and feasting on them at a particular roost spot, or are they signs of a meal by people foraging on the beach before it became regularly fired over by the army? The high cover of lichens on the shells shows that this patch of shingle has been left undisturbed for a long time.

 shell horde.JPG

Further south from this I passed Wickmaryhom Pit, see post dated 30 November 2007, and to my surprise, just to the east of that I came across the remains of another ancient, but smaller natural sea-water filled depression in the shingle, called Abnor Pit. The gravel in this area is thought to have been laid down by the sea around 310-410 AD, shortly before the time the Romans were due to leave Britain. I thought it had been destroyed by coastal erosion, but I cannot have visited this area at high tide last time. I suspect it dries out at low tide, so this ancient feature really is in its very final days. Again, its nemesis is the high bank of shingle being rolled inland by the advancing sea on the south-coast of Dungeness. What an interesting period it has witnessed. The departure of the Romans, and arrivals by Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Huguenots, and in its last days the current wave of eastern Europeans, but I suspect the end of its story is imminent.

Abnor Pit

Continuing further south again I was surprised to find a patch of marram grass Ammophila arrenaria growing on rather fine (pea-beach grade) bare shingle. This is normally a sand-dune species so it will be interesting to see if it manages to persist and spread in the bare shingle. If it is to do this it will need to contend with quite a bit of erosion from humans. On this photograph you can see many depressions in the gravel – mostly footprints. That’s the thing about shingle that makes it such a vulnerable habitat – even individual footprints cause permanent damage to the site. There was one particularly significant piece of disturbance nearby but that is a story for another post.

 Marram grass on the Galloways shingle