Then and now: 5

14th December 2008, Sunday

The following post shows the results of not designating land as an SSSI.  This photo shows the Lade, the north eastern part of the Dungeness shingle beach in 1946. This section of the beach is relatively young with a series of beach ridges terminating in the marsh soils to the west of the shingle. The dark line bending round from the top left and cutting south across the shingle is the old railway line, with little development to the west of this feature other than the listening mirrors, which were reached by tracks from the east coast. These structures were a pre-radar attempt to focus the noise of aircraft crossing the channel for its operators, and in those days they have a relatively clear view of the sea with only scattered housing along the coast. the most extensive buildings are the beginnings of the Romney Sands holiday camp.

The shingle shows the characteristic relative absence of vegetation on its northern fringes, a consequence of the gravel consisting of very large stones, more hostile to plant life, and no doubt the origin of the term Greatstone. The ridges are aligned in a north-south direction, with the strips of vegetation aligned also in this direction. The pale lines crossing east-west are footpaths across the shingle.

Flick forward to the current Google Earth aerial and there has been a considerable amount of change. This section of the beach was excluded from the Dungeness Site of Special Scientific Interest when it was first designated in 1951, the approach being that all that was required was to notify the most intact sequence of ridges from the coast inland.  The result was a green flag for developers. These days the approach is that because vegetated shingle is a globally rare habitat the whole of the shingle beach should be protected.

Much of the land to the west of the railway line was quarried to form two gravel pits, leaving only a narrow fringe of shingle to the west, which supports vigorous stands of blackthorn. The southern pit, Lade Pit was excavated first and it was on this pit that large numbers of medicinal leech were found in the 1980’s. This pit is shallower and warmer than the more recently excavated pit to the north where gravel extraction was more thorough. Ironically these pits now contribute to the biodiversity of the site by supporting not only leeches but also waterfowl, particularly in the winter. However, as with all of these excavations on the shingle the loss of the original shingle has to be very regretable.

To the east of the railway there was considerable growth both in Romney Sands holiday camp and in residential housing.

The conservation status of the site is more secure now, indeed the fragments of shingle to the north of the beach and the shingle to the south of the aerial photo are now part of the Dungeness National Nature Reserve.