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Page last updated at 12:47 GMT, Friday, 29 January 2010
Dungeness has a unique landscape and varied wildlife
By Hannah Ratcliffe
BBC Kent

Reeds in RSPB Dungeness reserve
Dungeness marshland is an important habitat for many breeds of bird

Dungeness headland has the largest area of open shingle in Europe, measuring 7.5 by 3.7 miles.

It has been built up by the sea depositing shingle there over thousands of years.

Dungeness has four conservation designations and is home to many unusual plants and insects.

Its position, jutting into the English Channel, makes it a good place to spot migrant birds arriving or departing the UK.

Dungeness shelters the Romney Marsh, a large area of low-lying land.

The headland has the following conservation designations: a National Nature Reserve (NNR), a Special Protection Area (SPA), a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) extends across Dungeness, Romney Marsh and Rye Bay.

The Kent Wildlife Trust says Dungeness is unique. The headland's shorelines, ponds, grazing marsh and wetland habitats support a diverse range of rare and threatened wildlife, flora and fauna.

Birds spotted in Dungeness
Breeds of birds at Dungeness changes over the year

The large number and variety of wild birds found at Dungeness is nationally renowned. During the winter, bittens and bearded tits frequent the RSPB reserve on Dungeness while in the summer redshanks, lapwing and reedbed birds are a common sight.

One of the most remarkable features of the site is an area known as 'the patch' or, by anglers, as 'the boil'. When a power station is operating, it draws 100 million litres of water per hour from the sea. This cools the wet steam from the turbines, turning it into water to be circulated back into the boilers.

Waste hot water and sewage from the power station is pumped into the sea through two outfall pipes. This enriches the biological productivity of the sea bed in that area and attracts seabirds from miles around.

Coastal changes

Sunshine off the coast of Dungeness
Dungeness is a good place to spot migrating birds

The entire shingle area is moving slowly north-east as the sea moves the shingle from one side to the other. The tides in the English Channel move from the Atlantic into the north sea, funnelled through the Dover Straits. This pulls the shingle north eastwards along the Kent coast.

Geological history places the beginning of the headland or promontory around 3,000 years ago as shingle deposits offshore from Pett Level in East Sussex. Evidence suggests since then it has enlarged and migrated up the Channel to its present position.

With the sea's movement of shingle, the coastline of Dungeness has altered significantly. This has required new lighthouses have had to be built over the year. The first lighthouse was only a beacon, with a proper lighthouse taking its place in 1615. The current lighthouse at the headland's fifth. It is now a tourist attraction.


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