Archive for the 'Dungeness National Nature Reserve' Category

19th July 2008, Saturday

In defence of:

Ragwort. A much maligned plant because it is poisonous to livestock, and  can be an indicator of bad grazing management, in particular overgrazing, which creates bare ground in which the seed can germinate. There is legislation, enforced by Defra, to control the plant. And yet on shingle beaches this plant behaves differently, and is actually of great value.

Shingle beaches tend not to be grazed these days, with a few exceptions, and the success of ragwort is down to the droughty nature of the soil. The seed can get established in areas that are drought stressed, or perhaps disturbed by rabbits. Walking across a very dry bit of Dungeness the other day I came across this little patch of gold.


It was a highly localised, but dense patch of the plant, growing with viper’s-bugloss Echium vulgare, another disturbance indicator. What was noticeable was that the plants were growing in a very deep shingle hollow – a former piece of coast that almost turned into an Oppen Pit, except that the shingle does not quite reach below the water table.

So why is the plant valuable? Read the rest of this entry »

17th July 2008, Thursday

Sphagnum squarrosum and associates

Sphagnum mosses, or bog mosses, are not species you generally associate with the Romney Marshes, although 3000 years ago there was an extensive raised Sphagnum bog near where the wind turbines are being erected.

This species occurs at one location on Dungeness, the Cladium Pit. It can be recognised by the very rough rather spikey appearance of the “leaves”.

Sphagnum squarrosum 

To find this moss I had to fight my way through a wall of tall reed risking flooded wellingtons, Read the rest of this entry »

25th June 2008, Wednesday


One of the plants showing up well on the mature shingle ridges at Dungeness at present is sheep’s-bit Jasione montana, with it’s beautiful blue flowers. In Kent this plant is virtually restricted to the shingle beaches and sandy banks in the Dungeness area.


16th May 2008, Friday

Dungeness Bird Observatory

Similar conditions to those of yesterday today resulted in a small but varied arrival of migrants. The highlight was a singing Golden Oriole at the Long Pits for a time during the morning but other significant records included a male Hen Harrier, a Hobby, a Ruff, a Common Sandpiper, 81 Swallows and 16 House Martins, seven Tree Pipits, a Redstart, three Garden Warblers, three Willow Warblers and seven Spotted Flycatchers. A Grey Partridge and 17 Corn Bunting were also seen.

David Walker from DBO website

17th March 2008, Monday

Dungeness surprises


In yesterday’s cold mist and drizzle, 6 of us did the circular walk around the RSPB reserve at Dungeness. Despite the weather there were plenty of visitors, most of them keeping warm and dry in the information centre. Great Crested Grebes and a male Goldeneye were displaying and a Sparrowhawk dashed past, but there wasn’t a great deal of note until Bob spotted an unfamiliar shape high above Christmas Dell – gull? heron?  No, a Bittern, slowly coming down into the reeds!  We heard later that one had been seen heading that way from the ARC pit across the main road. Soon after, on the path we found the newt shown in Mike Prince’s photo, which we think was a Smooth Newt, Triturus vulgaris – only a couple of inches long, so probably not fully grown.

28th February 2008, Thursday

Ancient shingle vegetation on Dungeness

Old stable shingle on Dungeness that has supported broom scrub Cytisus scoparius for many years, has a deep acidic humus, with a pH of around 4-5 and it is probably the acidity that kills off the broom.  Once the broom has gone it is replaced by a remarkable community of plants, often dominated by lichens that caste the shingle a grey colour. As well as abundant lichens and mosses there are a mix of low growing plants such as wood sage Teucrium scorodonia, one of the hosts, along with broom, of dodder Cuscuta epithymum. I remember learning about this parasitic plant when I did  O-level biology but did not see it until I came to Dungeness. In the photo below it can be seen in the foreground of the picture with its trailing pink stems and flowers wrapped around the pale flowers of wood sage.

Lichen heath with dodder

Read the rest of this entry »

20th February 2008, Wednesday

A few more bits and pieces on broom

Broom scrub habitats at Dungeness supports a nationally important assemblage of insects.*

Shingle communities dominated by broom scrub in Britain are unique to the RX area.**

60% of the shingle on Dungeness that would have supported this community had been destroyed by 1990.**

Kerton Road

Hopefully we can keep what we have left!

If you want to see broom scrub on the shingle Read the rest of this entry »

18th February 2008, Monday

A life in a day for a broom

Walking across the false oat-grass dominated shingle yesterday I found a tiny broom plant on the ninth ridge in from the sea, trying to establish itself on relatively bare shingle. Despite its size it will have taken a number of years to get to this big. Some winters the shoots are almost totally blackened and set back to the base of the stem by salt spray, sculpting the prostrate shape of the bushes on Dungeness. This plant was probably at least five years old. 

Young broom

Let us try and imagine how this plant might develop in the future, if it avoids the perils of being trampled to death, driven over by quadbikes, or gravel extraction! Read the rest of this entry »

30th January 2008, Wednesday

When shingle gets disturbed

Let me stress straight away that generally on Dungeness conservationists do not want the shingle to be disturbed. Much of the nature conservation interest is best protected by leaving it alone to develop naturally. The geomorphologically important ridges that show how the site was built by the sea can be permanently destroyed by disturbance for instance. And some of the old vegetation communities can also take decades (if not more) to recover if disturbance is extensive. But, when it happens the results can be spectacular…………….

Viper’s bugloss goes for total world domination!

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27th January 2008, Sunday

False oatgrass gets interesting

On neutral soils False-oat-grass Arrhenatherum elatius is a coarse leaved grass that tends to take over grasslands when they are abandoned. It is frequently found along road-side verges which are irregularly mown. Here it forms dense tussocky grassland, often with coarse herbs. This sort of grassland is great for small mammals and reptiles, but to the botanist it is an impoverished community, as the dense leaf litter smothers smaller interesting plants. As a result it is often regarded as a sign that a grassland is in uunfavourable condition if this community is widespread. So why am I writing about a common plant that is regarded as an indicator of bad habitat management?

Coastal false oat grass grassland at Dungeness

Read the rest of this entry »