Dungeness has a very unusual landscape with one of the largest expanses of shingles in the world at the end of a mile and a half promontory, between New Romney, Lydd, and Camber on Romney Marsh in Kent.
As well as being a National Nature Reserve, a Special Area of Conservation and a Site of Special Scientific Interest the shingle expanse at Dungeness is so large that it has been called Britain’s only desert – although according to the Met Office, it receives an average of 700mm of rain a year, so cannot be formally classified as a desert.
The Dungeness Estate is owned by EDF Energy, the French company that owns the Dungeness B nuclear power plant next door. Each year more and more shingle is deposited on the shore, so Dungeness, unlike a great deal of the rest of the coast, is actually getting bigger until that is EDF started to move shingle along the beach in order to protect the power station from flooding.
Having seen the view above you may all be saying what a mess and what’s all the fuss about. Well, Dungeness is a varied landscape of international scientific and environmental importance. A remarkable and unique variety of wildlife lives at Dungeness, including more than 600 different types of plants, a third of all those found in Britain. It is one of the best places in Britain to find insects such as moths, bees, beetles, and spiders — many of which are very rare. Some aren’t to be found anywhere else in Britain.
It’s not just its environmental credentials that make this place fascinating though. The world’s first submarine oil pipelines were laid between Dungeness and France during the second world war as part of Operation Pluto. Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the radio, conducted his tests in Dungeness in 1899, becoming the first person to transmit radio messages across the English Channel. His research shed still stands there — just! And it’s the last stop on the Romney, Hythe, and Dymchurch Railway — one of the smallest public railways in the world!
Shortly after Marconi’s conducted his radio tests a new lighthouse was commissioned in 1901 and this can be seen in the background in the image above whilst in the foreground its modern successor, the black and white lighthouse which was commissioned in 1961 when the old lighthouse became a tourist attraction. Its 169 steps give visitors a bird’s eye view of the shingle beach. Both of these lighthouses having replaced earlier lighthouses constructed in 1615, 1635, and 1792.
In addition to its fascinating landscape and historical significance Dungeness, as you can see from the photos as long been well known for its fishing, and going back a number of years the residents were predominantly local fishing families, a few of whom remain. They have, over the generations, formed the backbone of the locality and have played a large part in the manning of the numerous lifeboats that have been located on the beach.
Whilst today there are still some fishing boats in use there are just as many resting on the shingle never to be used again. These along with the disused railway lines that were once used to transport the fish from the boats to the road and the decaying and rusting remains of the fisherman’s huts and equipment add even more to what is a unique area and one that should be protected for as long as we are able.
You can see more images of Dungeness in the South Downs, Kent and Dorset gallery.