11th December 2008, Thursday

Walking the Dungeness shingle in December reveals scenes you don’t normally notice at warmer times of the year. Such walks are relatively guilt-free because the lichens are soft and spongy, and don’t fragment when you walk on them. Something else is different about them at this time of year, or rather their illumination. The sun is at such a low angle that even a relatively flat featureless scene such as the Dungeness landscape is shown in its micro-topographic spendour. The peaks and valleys of mats of Cladonia lichens, like a miniature range of hills, are revealed by the shading produced by the almost horizontal rays of sunshine

Other features that are much more obvious at this time of year are the old vehicle tracks, some no doubt many decades old. Its amazing that such marks are retained on the shingle canvas, but providing there is no additional disturbance after they are formed the heavy stones hardly move about naturally. These tracks had become colonised by slow-growing lichens which camouflage them making them harder to spot when the sun is at a higher angle.

Fresh tracks, such as the ones below, are much more obvious. The up-turned stones have not been colonised by lichens and are therefore paler, the edges of the tracks more angular, and the damage to the adjacent vegetation is still fresh, exposing the humus that now risks being blown away in this windy environment. On Dungeness the best place for an off-road vehicle is on the road!