This 1946 aerial photo shows the Oppen pits on Dungeness as a series of unshaded wetlands within a vast area of dry shingle, with fascinating ridge patterns showing the evolution of this bit of the beach. How I would have loved to have visited them in this period, when they really must have felt isolated. Since then they have suffered the triple whammy of grazing abandonment, lowered water tables, and damaging peat fires.
And in 2008:
1. Grazing of the shingle ceased in the 1960’s, resulting in the invasion of the peatlands by willows.
2. Gravel extraction in the 1970’s caused water levels to drop by approx 50cm, reducing the extent of open water, drying out the edges of the pits, and encouraging the spread of woodland.
3. Water abstraction increased throughout the period adding to the water table problems.
4. Severe fires in 1976 caused further damage to pit 2, which was already fragmented by the isolation of its southern arm 2b.
The fifty years from 1946 saw a continuous decline in the quality of the pits. In 1997 English Nature, advised by Dr Francis Rose who knew the pits well in the 1940’s, initiated a programme of restoration of the wetlands, with scrub clearance begun by the Romney Marsh Countryside Project, and the programme of scrub clearance and experimental grazing is now spearheaded by the RSPB. This aims to clear scrub from the most valuable areas of fen and restore species-rich communities. Such management has restored species-rich fen in pit 6, and is underway in pits 2,4,5 and 8.
A lot of management and experimentation is required before these pits can be successfully restored to favourable condition once more, but decades of decline are starting to be reversed.