More on the strand line vegetation at Dungeness

4th January 2008, Friday

On the 30 December I wrote a post about the unusual and internationally important vegetation communities that grow just above the high tide line (or strandline) at Dungeness and Rye. This photograph shows a particularly well developed example of this vegetation. It was taken in August 1998, and shows Babbington’s orache – the pale green patches of low growing vegetation, amongst dark clumps of sea weed washed up by the sea. Sea kale, a relative of the cabbage replaces the annual vegetation slightly further inland. This is the best patch of this vegetation I have ever seen at Dungeness. What happened next?

Strandline vegetation - Dungeness

The following winter there were particularly severe storms that crashed over this frontal ridge washing away most of the seed of the next generation of these plants. The summer afterwards most of this area was bare gravel, with the strandline plants up to a hundred metres inland where they had been washed by the waves. Left to nature this bare gravel, in the absence of further severe storms, would have gradually revegetated. Nature is particularly dynamic in this sort of habitat. Instead man stepped in. An artificial shingle ridge has been bulldozed up most winters since to prevent further flooding, smothering a significant proportion of the strandline vegetation and destroying the naturalness of this feature.

Coastal defences

This coast is a challenge – as well as being a feature of European nature conservation significance that should be maintained in favourable condition (as in the first photograph) there are other stakeholders, including nuclear power stations, that need to be protected from flooding. The challenge for the coming year or two is to come up with a better form of coast protection that allows the strandline communities to function naturally, whilst giving the required level of flood protection.