As we end another challenging year at Dungeness with plenty of change and lots coming up in 2022, we thought that this would be an ideal opportunity to update you on some of our exciting plans going forward. If you have any questions, please do speak to the Welcome Team on your next visit – we are always happy to have a chat!

We have received lots of positive comments about the reserve, the Lookouts, the targeted scrub removal and the wildlife seen here. Moving forward we want to continue to ensure there is something for everyone here by having a variety of wildlife viewing structures (hides, screens and viewpoints) across the reserve, but also listening to visitor’s feedback and making improvements to these areas based on this.

We are still working on creating a range of viewing opportunities so that there is something for everyone, this way everyone can enjoy the reserve. We have historically been very hide-heavy in comparison to most reserves which has led to a reliance on using these structures to see wildlife. Paired with high scrub and banks between these hides, people say “it’s a march between hides for people to see anything”. We are keen to change this and provide an immersive, welcoming environment across the whole reserve and have already started this process with a lot of work carried out last winter which we are now continuing

The team have been working hard on plans to update our visitor infrastructure and we now have Dennis’s Hide, Christmas Dell, Dengemarsh and the Viewing Screen open with the excellent Firth and Scott Lookout’s complimenting these alongside the popular viewing ramp.

Hanson/Willow Trail Area

The team have been rejuvenating the Hanson Hide/Willow Trail area over recent months. The willow trees in the area were all a similar age, about 15-20 years old, and were starting to continually uproot in the wind. Surveys this summer found the soil is only about a foot thick before turning to sharp sand which means there is very little for the trees to root into. The picture below of a recently removed tree shows the depth of the root is less than one foot for a tree that was about 12 inches in diameter across the trunk making it very liable to blow over as the roots can’t hold the weight of the tree in sustained wind.

 

Willow roots– Craig Edwards

The team had to make the call to remove the trees from around the paths to reduce the risk of these falling on visitors and causing serious injury. We also received some feedback from various visitors that they did not feel safe on the ARC/Hanson side of the reserve due to the encroaching scrub around the hide, with it being dark and secluded. The removal of some the willow scrub will not just benefit visitors as the clearance will hopefully encourage the reed to re-colonise and the balance of the area will re-set to get a willow/reedbed mix, providing more habitat for bearded tits, water rails, reed and sedge warbler and the ever-elusive cetti’s warbler among others. We are also working on plans to increase presence on the ARC/Hanson side of the reserve, so that there is always an RSPB staff member or volunteer around and we hope this will also help to make people feel safer over here.

Surveys earlier in the year revealed the state of rot in the Hanson Hide access ramp, so this was removed with the plan to replace quickly however, the removal of the ramp provided excavator access opportunities which are otherwise impossible due to the location of the adjacent pond. This excavator has been working to remove reed rhizomes and create a view from the Willow Trail viewpoint, a long-desired objective and we will be raising the height of the path to the viewpoint close to the hide, as this is closed annually due to flooding, by moving some of the earth from the adjacent earth screening bund in the coming weeks. We are also taking advantage of the missing ramp to move materials for the far end of the boardwalk and viewpoint by vehicle to reduce manual handling and speed the work up. When this work has been completed early in the new year, we can start to re-install the access ramp and re-open the hide. We can’t put a date on this yet as we are dependent on the availability and delivery of further materials, but we are working hard to open the hide before March 2022.

The new view from the Willow Trail viewpoint in creation – Craig Edwards

The boardwalk is progressing well and is looking great thanks to the hard work of our volunteers. We hope to have much of the decking in before Christmas so only leaving a few jobs before this is complete. We are formalising the viewpoint with a wider platform with a bench and basic wooden shelter to keep the worst of the weather off. With the sheep now winter grazing some of the grasslands close to the hide, we will be installing a self-closing accessibility gate at the edge of the car park, to further reduce the risk of sheep escaping onto the road if there any issues with the other fencing, as well as benches along the path to the hide to ensure there is the chance to rest and enjoy the reserve every 150-200m.

We also have plans to raise the islands in front of Hanson Hide, we had the necessary consents and found the funding, but we were beaten by the water levels that have caused us such a headache this year. As Dungeness sits on a groundwater aquifer which is abstracted for drinking water, we have no control on the lake levels. They can fluctuate by about 1-1.5m each year with low water in the autumn before winter rain fills them back up again. However this year, the sheer quantity of summer rain meant that they were at winter levels in July and the levels just didn’t drop enough in the remaining summer months to permit access onto the island via a shallow causeway as this was just a bit too deep. We will be attempting it earlier in the year in 2022 again, when the water levels should be lower. We are also planning on installing anti-predator fencing around the island clusters in future years as well to reduce the potential for mammalian predation which caused the loss of the black headed gull colony this year.

Dengemarsh Hide

The team have spent a lot of the late summer widening and clearing the path to Dengemarsh Hide as this had become encroached by bramble scrub which was restricting access and causing increased ongoing maintenance as well as being partially grassed over, which makes it harder for wheelchairs to access the hide. The hide has also had a lot of work undertaken with a new coat of paint, a brand new, wider entrance ramp and repairs to the internal structure thanks to our hard-working volunteers. We will need to undertake more work on the foundations in the not too distant future, but for now, the hide looks better than ever and has been open since early October.

The new look Dengemarsh Hide and access ramp – Barnaby Apps

Firth Lookout

We have been received lots of positive feedback about the Lookout this year, but we are aware of the lack of shelter from the elements that this provides and have listened to people’s feedback. We have been working on plans to install a viewing screen and are pleased to announce that this will be installed in late March 2022. The old hide will be removed early next year, and we will be moving the sand that is behind the current lookout to create a sand bank along the gap that has been caused by this removal to reduce disturbance. The viewing screen will run along the back of the current lookout giving people the option to stand on either side of it dependent on wind direction as viewing slots will be cut at intervals along the length of it. In a prevailing south westerly wind, visitors will be able to stand/sit on the eastern side of this screen to protect them from the worst of the wind and in a cold easterly, they will be able to stand on the western side and get some shelter whilst looking through the viewing slots. A 7 metre section will be roofed to provide some protection from rain and two wind staggered wind breaks will be present on the southern side to reduce the wind impact on visitors. We hope that this will provide benefit to all our visitors with the great view maintained as well as protection from the elements from those who are looking for that as well.

Image courtesy of Gilleards, showing the type of screening that will be used at Firth Lookout

Makepeace Hide

This hide also came to the end of its life this year and will be removed early in the new year at the same time as Firth Hide. We will be replacing this hide and are currently working up some draft designs for the replacement. We are looking to make it more inclusive to everyone’s needs and welcoming to more visitors. Once we have the draft design, we will be putting it out to public consultation within our visitor centre early in 2022 to get everyone’s feedback on the plans and we will advertise this via our social media pages. We will need to move it back a few metres due to bank erosion and because of this we are going to have to go through the planning process which we will start after reviewing feedback through the consultation process. We will start fundraising for the replacement as it goes through planning, but we only have a short window each year to carry out any construction work without causing undue disturbance to breeding (April-August) or overwintering birds (Nov-Feb), on top of this we have the lead-in time for contractors which at the moment is around four months. Realistically given the time constraints just outlined, it is likely that the replacement hide will be installed in summer 2023 at this stage but will update visitors as the plans progress.

In the interim, once the hide has been removed, we will be installing some temporary screening to allow people to look across the southern part of Burrowes Pit without having to peer over the banks. With the new hide we have the opportunity to commemorate one of the founders of the RSPB – Etta Lemon, who lived close to the reserve and we are investigating how we can do this, whilst also ensuring we remember Peter Makepeace, the warden of the reserve in the 1980’s and whom the existing hide is named after. This is something else we will bring to the consultation in the new year.

 

Scott Lookout

Similar to Firth Lookout, we have been receiving very positive feedback about this structure and we are keen to try and balance the expansive views with protection with the elements so during the spring/summer of 2022 we will be installing a wooden shelter to cover a proportion of the Lookout.

 

Welcome Hut

Since re-opening the reserve following the covid lockdown last summer, we have been hosting meet and greet outside in a hired Festi-hut. This has enabled us to have positive, meaningful conversations with all our visitors without having to worry about the till or melting ice creams whilst introducing the reserve and its wonderful wildlife. With all these positive conversations in mind, moving forward we will be installing a new and permanent Welcome Hut which will be placed more central to the visitor centre doors on the current concrete parking pads. This will continue to allow us to engage with all our visitors in a meaningful way as well as making us more accessible by enabling us to engage visitors with limited mobility in their own cars as opposed to having to go into the visitor centre. We will be installing more disabled parking bays on the other side of the visitor centre doors and increasing the number to three as well as an additional one by the toilet block. The new Welcome Hut will come with in-built bug hotels and bird boxes and will be a great addition to the reserve.

 

Dennis’s Viewpoint

Since widening the Dennis’s Viewpoint last winter, it has been a great vantagepoint across the northern part of the lake. However due to the 1.5ft bank that sits adjacent to it, it is very management heavy with regular vegetation control required to maintain the view. This regular disturbance is not ideal for people or wildlife, so we are looking to lower the bank to reduce the amount of ongoing management and widening it at the same time so that more people can enjoy this. It will also allow us to add more benches to it to provide more opportunities to sit and enjoy the view. We are looking to lower the bank in front of the hide to reduce the amount of disturbance throughout the summer months as we regularly have to cut this vegetation. We will have to reduce the bramble and willow scrub on the way to the viewpoint to create the access required for the excavator to get to the viewpoint, but this will make the area a greater focal point for visitors.

 

External caterer’s

We have long desired a café at Dungeness - this has never quite materialised and it is one of the main things that is asked about as a team. For 2022 we are looking to find an external caterer to set up in our car park daily and offer a variety of hot food and drink to our visitors.

 

Poem Trail

In 2022 we are planning to install a poem trail with a series of installations inspired by the nature that is found here. Watch this space for more information on this one

 

New Events Programme

The team have been working hard to improve and expand our events programme to ensure there is more for everyone to enjoy and we hope to launch this in the coming weeks. Events include more specific walks such as gull ID, warbler ID, butterfly and dragonfly walks as well as photography workshops and a greatly expanded Sound Mirror events schedule to provide more opportunities to access the sound mirror island.

There is lots to look forward to in 2022 and we thank you for sticking with us through the rollercoaster of 2021. If you have any questions, please do email us on dungeness@rspb.org.uk or speak to a member of the Welcome Team

This work requires a huge amount of support from staff, volunteers and visitors. If you feel like you have some knowledge or skills that will be of use to our team, please do get in touch via the email above and we can discuss potential volunteering opportunities and ideas. There are many benefits to volunteering with the RSPB and we would love to welcome more people to our ever-growing team. It’s an exciting time for the reserve, why not become a part of it?

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