The Dungeness peninsular is the largest shingle structure in the UK and large parts have several important nature conservation designations; including Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA) for birds and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for habitats and rare species.
Restoration / Priority Habitats
Coastal Vegetated Shingle
Dungeness is one of only four UK sites with the rare annual vegetation of drift lines – a highly specialised plant community - less than 100 ha exist in total on site. It also has the most diverse and extensive stable communities of perennial vegetated shingle banks in Europe. Large areas remain intact despite considerable past damage to the surface structure. Small natural water bodies within the shingle support fen and open water plant communities and are considered unique in the UK. They are important for Transition Mire habitat (a habitat listed in Annex 1 of the Habitats Directive), great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) and medicinal leech (Hirudo medicinalis). Willow scrub has encroached into these areas, but they are now being restored.
The shingle vegetation is fragile and still shows signs of damage from wartime military activity. Interpretation and people management have almost stopped damage by vehicles, trampling and illicit gravel extraction, but scars remain.
Prior to the Second World War, gravel extraction at Dungeness was ad-hoc and piecemeal, usually as shallow hand-dug pits.
The first permission for large-scale gravel extraction was granted in 1947 and 1948 through two Interim Development Orders (IDOs). Few conditions were attached, and with no soil or overburden, costs were low and production rates high.
More recent permissions have been subject to rigorous application procedures. The international biological and geological status of the remaining exposed shingle means that extraction in these areas is now prohibited. Instead, gravel is extracted further inland from farmland.
In 1993, selective excavation in part of the RSPB site was permitted. Several landscape, ecological and geological conditions were negotiated with English Nature (now Natural England) and the RSPB. These areas were overlain with agricultural soils that required stripping prior to extraction.
Habitat design and planning
The operating company (currently Hanson Aggregates) has, since the 1960s, consulted with RSPB and Natural England on all restoration plans at Dungeness. Restoration techniques and outcomes for biodiversity have continually improved over time.
Mosaics of habitats are incorporated in restorations, including freshwater lakes with islands and other associated wetland features. Where soil and overburden removal is necessary to access gravel, this has been incorporated into the design.
The reserve supports 126 BAP species, 214 notable species within the UK and 57 species which are in the Red Data Book. There are wintering bitterns in most years and 2009/2010 recorded the first booming male bittern on site.
There are around 30,000 visitors a year to Dungeness, and over 1,000 local school children visit to use the environmental education and teaching facilities at the reserve, which have recently been improved and extended. A key point in the management plan is develop and deliver learning events and programmes for families and young people.
The local economy benefits through increasing the numbers of tourists, which increases related trade in the area. In addition, the RSPB employs paid and volunteers staff to work on the reserve.
Coastal vegetated shingle
Coastal vegetated shingle is extremely rare and fragile, occurring in very few locations. Protecting remaining areas should be the highest priority when locating mineral extraction sites. Further, where opportunities to create new areas of coastal vegetated shingle occur, they should be taken to expand the habitat.
Techniques are being trialled at Dungeness to repair historical damage to the vegetated shingle. This is a very slow process, involving a poorly understood ecosystem, with no guarantee of success. However, the outcomes of the trials may be useful to those intending to create coastal vegetated shingle at other sites.
The natural processes of developing vegetated shingle are very slow. Turfing and seeding of broom were trialled to assist the process on Lydd Ranges, where some of the oldest communities of lichen-dominated vegetation exist. Turf was moved from a small area threatened by inundation, to restore areas damaged during the war. As the donor vegetation was old, the shingle contained substantial amounts of humus, such that whole sections could be lifted. The turfs were laid in a chequerboard pattern, between which some limited colonisation of bare shingle has since occurred.
Trials were also conducted on shingle vegetation establishment by seeding of broom. It is an early coloniser of shingle and the leaf litter that develops helps other species, including lichens to establish. Seeds were planted in sand at around 1m intervals. After four years, survival was 6%, and some plants are quite substantial. Lichen communities have begun to establish among the more established plants.
Other methods were also tested, with variable results:
- Spreading dock seeds - failed.
- Applying sea campion seed to shingle enhanced with peat-free compost. The plants have become successfully established
- Translocation of wood sage and false oat grass into shingle during the winter - some establishment of vegetation but no spread.
- Planting broom plants – broom established if conditions stay moist after planting.
These techniques for creating coastal vegetated shingle are still at an early stage, and are problematic. This, therefore, highlights the importance of protecting existing habitat.
Recent re-profiling of high, scrub dominated islands within the old gravel pits has produced damp sand habitats. This habitat supports a rare assemblage of ground beetles. The future management of old pits will also include the increase of reedbed area to 15ha.
Creating grasslands for invertebrates
At Dengewest South, gravel was extracted from beneath pastoral soils, and restoration has been to nectar rich grassland for invertebrates, primarily bees. Clovers were encouraged by a combination of natural colonization from the seed bank, hay strewing, and grazing timed to allow plants to flower and set seed. This has increased the numbers of bumblebees, including the rare Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species Bombus humilis. The site is now being used to demonstrate that changes in management can favour vulnerable bumblebee populations.