Sunday, 9 September 2012

Oppen Pits

If you visit Dungeness today you will come across a lot of fresh water. Gravel extraction has created many large holes that have been filled with the stuff. The Long Pits, ARC, Lade, New Diggings, Burrowes - I could go on. More are being dug and flooded as I type. It wasn't always like this.

It used to be the case that fresh water could be found in one place only, naturally ocurring, well away from any track or road. The Oppen Pits are on the RSPB reserve, roughly half a mile north-east of the Dungeness B power station and but a pebbles throw from the south-eastern side of Burrowes Pit. There are two main pits, neither very large, maybe the size of  a football pitch, although the open water on both is reduced by the infringement of reeds and willow.

I first visited them in 1976 when access was more relaxed. It was where I saw my first Long-eared Owl. Over the following four years I frequently trod the shingle between them and the observatory, across a virtually untouched Dungeness, characterised by large shingle swells characterised by being vegetated in the dips only. Out there there is a feeling of being in a wild place, missing elsewhere on the peninsula. One fine June morning in 1981 provided a fine Woodchat Shrike. I didn't know it at the time, but I wasn't to visit this special place again until this July.

When I knew that I was going to spend a bit of time at Dungeness over the summer I asked the RSPB for permission to visit the pits once more. They are not accessible to the public and it takes a concerted effort to get out to them. I was delighted to be granted access. I visited twice.

Over the past thirty years the vegetation has grown to the point that it is difficult (nay impossible) to get to the open water. Without a machete and thigh waders the best you can do is glimpse the water through the willow scrub (as in the top image).

Botanically it holds some good species in a Kent context. Marsh Cinquefoil is here (above), being found only at Dungeness in the county. Common Sedge and Marsh Fern are also to be found at the pits but with difficulty elsewhere. I found all three without any problem. Birdwise it has potential and I wouldn't be surprised if there are some notable species that are setting up home, but I'm not privvy to such information.

The pits are a special place. The romantic in me is aware that a colony of terns and gulls used to nest on the open shingle between here and the beach. The RSPB watchers that kept an eye on them in the 1930s (when foxes and humans were not such a problem), would have been serenaded by the breeding Stone Curlwes as they did so. When I walked away from the pits the second time I did so with the thought that I might never visit them again. These modest water bodies have given me some special moments and, if you can be grateful to a bowl of fresh water, then I am. Very much so.


laurence.d said...

Being lucky enough to find great pleasure in such things also comes with the curse of knowing how fragile they are.

Steve Gale said...

Wise words Laurence, but a curse worth putting up with.