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Flints, footprints and the loss of biodiversity

It is well known that Dungeness is an internationally significant shingle beach and an incredibly fragile habitat.  To see what public pressure can do to the vegetation try visiting the carpark at The Pilot and look to the sea.  You immediately notice an expanse of shingle, covered in foot prints, and hardly any vegetation.  An obvious example of trampling damage caused by the daily passage of visitors to the sea each day.

Now contrast this view with another relatively undisturbed part of the shingle beach about 200 m away.

The difference is obvious with the second area having a high cover of lichens growing amongst the coastal grassland.  Now whilst the vascular plants do not appreciate trampling and are lost if public pressure is high, lichens are much more vulnerable and tend to suffer from much lower public pressure.  Here is an example.

Just a few footsteps have produced localised damage, with the yellow flints making this obvious.  If the area is left undisturbed the vascular plants can recolonise, but lichens take much longer to reappear.  The scene below shows grey encrusting lichens growing on flints and the fruiting body of another species.  Footprints flip the stones over, shading the encrusting species, and damage the larger freestanding species.

Similar trampling on a patch of Cladonia in dry weather fragments the plants, and again the damaged plants can take years to recover.

The first signs of trampling damage on a shingle beach are therefore the loss of lichens from amongst the vascular plants, producing a degraded shingle community such as this one.

So if you visit the Dungeness Estate be lichen aware, and if possible try to stick to established paths or the road, and let the lichens grow in peace.

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