Dungeness and Rye Coastal Plain IPA
Location: Between Rye, East Sussex and the coast. The headland of Dungeness lies to the east, through Lydd.
Grid Reference: TQ 937 179
Dungeness is the headland of a shingle beach on the Romney Marsh in Kent. The beaches here and at Rye Harbour support a range of vegetated shingle communities.
Dungeness is home to 600 species of plants, which is a third of all plants found in the UK. The site represents the most diverse and extensive example of stable vegetated shingle in Europe.
A feature of the site, thought to be unique in the UK, is the small depressions formed within the shingle structure, which support fen and open-water communities. The Dungeness foreland has a very extensive and well-developed shoreline, although with sparse vegetation and in places some human disturbance.
The shingle beaches at Dungeness and Rye Harbour support a range of vegetated shingle communities and transitions between them. At Dungeness a wide range of successional communities are present. One of the most unusual pioneer species is prostrate broom which is an important component of the vegetation just inland of the driftline.
On older shingle ridges broom is eventually replaced by other species such as sweet vernal-grass, wood sage and common sorrel, and a rich lichen sward and ‘thin heath’ develops. Another important aspect of the vegetation is the range of blackthorn that occurs on low-lying areas of shingle, the older shrubs having a very rich epiphytic lichen flora, this lichen community is unique to shingle and has its best representation at Dungeness, and the reason why the IPA was identified.
The site supports populations of four plant species that are listed in Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act: Jersey cudweed grows on the margins of gravel pits in Dungeness RSPB Reserve; least lettuce occurs in vegetated shingle at Rye Harbour Local Nature Reserve (LNR); there is a small colony of the early spider-orchid growing on an area of disturbed shingle adjacent to the nuclear power stations at Dungeness; and there are colonies of lizard orchids.
The shingle beaches of Dungeness and Rye Harbour support at least six nationally scarce species, including the critically endangered red hemp-nettle, and the near-threatened Nottingham catch-fly and yellow vetch. On naturally bare shingle near the coast soil development is limited and only a few specialised pioneer plant species can colonise, such as sea-kale, sea pea, and sea cabbage. As finer material accumulates within the gravel matrix, more species become established including viper’s-bugloss, yellow horned-poppy and herb-robert.
Image: Dungeness © Duncan Balfour/Plantlife