Bob Dylan in his song "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" wrote:-
"Struck by the sounds before the sun
I knew the night had gone
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn
The ocean wild like an organ played
The seaweed's wove its strands
The crashing waves like cymbals clashed
Against the rocks and sands"
To me, it must be awful to live in the middle of England and never experience the ever changing moods and sounds and smells of the sea. It can be a rolling, crashing orchestra of storms and things, or it can be a glass calm lullaby mirrowing a cloudless sky. One thing is sure, very few days are the same when you live within sight of the sea and its moods.
With that in mind and having carried out a few chores on the marsh part of the reserve this morning I decided to walk the extra mile and go down to a part of the reserve that I rarely mention, Shellness Point. This is at the extreme eastern end of the reserve and indeed is at the extreme eastern end of the Isle of Sheppey as a whole and features a type of habitat that isn't really found anywhere else on Sheppey - shellbeach.
This small stretch of beach jutting out into the start of the tidal Swale is made from the build up over hundreds of years of seashells and shingle and is a very miniature version of Dungeness. It begins to the rear of the small seashore cluster of buildings known as Shellness Hamlet and is no more than half a mile long and is completely flat apart from the prescence of an old WW2 military lookout post. Below, with my back the the Hamlet, you can see the track running out to the Point and its old lookout building (see the end of the blog for more on this building)
This photo, taken from alongside the lookout building, shows the sweep of the beach running out to the Point. Rough, stormy tides in the winter quite often take away from or add to this beach and its shape is forever changing.
Throughout the year, at every high tide, the beach sees the formation of high tide roosts of sometimes thousands of waders, displaced off of the mudflats alongside. Here the tide is just beginning to come in and is pushing this flock of Oystercatchers slowly up the beach. (Double click on the photo to enlarge it)
Enlarge this photo as well and see the make up of the beach which consists mostly of cockle and razor shells. Ringed Plovers favour this beach for their nests and spotting their eggs is an almost impossible task.
To sit along this beach on at high tide on a warm summer's day is like being abroad at times but in winter, with a bitter cold easterly gale and stormy seas, it is a whole different ball game.
Leaving the Point and walking back along the seawall to the grazing marsh part of the reserve, I came across this washed-out Small Tortoiseshell butterfly feeding on a dandelion, possibly a last feed?
And finally, making my way back across the grazing marsh, I came apon my first Lapwing nest of the year, a great end to the morning.
Both Sheerness and Chatham naval dockyards in WW2 were vital and important installations and as such were well defended from attack from the front, i.e. the Thames Estuary. However, there was the worry that on some high tides, small enemy submarines might try and enter The Swale at Shellness and travel it's length to emerge behind Sheerness dockyard at Queenborough and surprise attack from the rear. As a result the Shellness XDO Post was built on the beach there and underwater cables were laid across the estuary from Shellness to the mainland and a little way inside these cables were sunk lines of mines. These cables acted as a form of large trip wires linked to the XDO Post and it was planned that should a submarine, coming up against these cable loops, set off the alarm then an operator in the Post would then active an electrical charge that would then blow the mines and presumably destroy the intruding vessel. A nice posting one would imagine if you happened to be a birdwatcher as well.