Saturday, 16 April 2011

Shellness Sunshine

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.


  1. I take your point about being so very far from the sea Derek but otherwise it isn't 'awful' at all living in the middle of England (well it might be if you lived in a city) but we have the most wonderful rolling hills, woodlands and meadows. I live on the edge of the Cotswolds and you can't get much lovelier scenery than that.

    I always loved that first smell of the sea when I went to the seaside on holidays as a child and a beach with shells to collect was always welcome, they had to be pretty ones though.

    All those Oystercatchers!! And I think I am lucky if I see just one at Draycote :)

    What a great songwriter Dylan is, a real poet.

    An interesting and informative post.

  2. Jan,

    I appreciate your views about "middle England" and of course we are both biased towards our own particular surroundings and so it should be. It was just me being poetic about my own patch. In the winter that Oystercatcher flock there can get up to +3,000.

  3. Wow, that must be an amazing sight!!

  4. Nice to see a flutterby photo on your post Derek :-)

    Oh! and I dont want to see a photo of those eggs with holes pecked in them next week!!

  5. Don't worry Warren, we've extinguished the majority of the crows.
    The bird was back on the nest before I left.

  6. Dylan fan as well? He wrote that song in 1963, when you were only just out of short pants!

  7. p.s have you got that on a CD? and if so which one.

  8. Very interesting account Derek must make the effort to get out there again.

  9. Tony,

    Dylan fanatic is the word, I'll reply direct to you.