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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

RSPB Dungeness 15.05.21: Hobbies & Swifts

Updated: May 24, 2021

'Dung' probably connected with nearby Denge Marsh; plus 'ness', from the Old Norse 'nes' (headland).

I visit RSPB Dungeness frequently, typically twice a month, as part of my voluntary work with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust's Short-haired bumblebee reintroduction project - Bumblebee Conservation Trust which is based at RSPB Dungeness and entails surveying transects on the Dungeness promontory (Ness) and Romney Marsh; however, when I am there I don't have the time to watch birds.

RSPB is the most challenging of the RSPB reserves which are visitable in a day from Brighton. Typically, to get to Dungeness it takes two trains (Brighton to Eastbourne, Eastbourne to Rye and a bus, the 202 from Rye to the reserve) however on Saturday 15.05.21 there was a rail-replacement bus between Bexhill and Rail: the journey (train form Brighton to Bexhill, bus from Bexhill to Rye, and bus from Rye to Dungeness) took three and a half hours (catching the 7.30 train from Brighton). The length of the journey makes Dungeness feel even more remote. The psychological and geographical environment of Dungeness feels "weird": because of the sparseness of its flora; it's flatness; its windiness; the predominance of shingle, and location of two nuclear power stations on the ness. But the RSPB reserve in extraordinary - there is nowhere else where you can watch Hobbies, and other birds, fly across a background of two nuclear power stations and two lighthouses (although Sizewell nuclear power station dominates the skyline in one direction from RSPB Minsmere)

Dungeness lies at the southernmost point of Kent and the area represents the most diverse and extensive example of stable vegetated shingle in Europe. ...

The stark wild beauty and distinctive character of this shingle desert engenders feelings of awe, wonder and curiosity. ...

Shingle Cuspate

Dungeness is the largest cuspate foreland in Britain, and globally very unusual because it is formed predominantly of flint shingle. Beaches ridges date from about 5500 years BP and the best-preserved sequence can be traced from the 8th century AD.

In addition to exposed shingle covering about 2158 ha, there are also buried shingle banks, which underlie a further 1150 ha.

Other large shingle structures such as Chesil Beach, Spey Bay and Orfordness are comparable in terms of the length of coastline that they occupy, but they do not contain the enormous volume of shingle stored in the shingle ridges at Dungeness.

The feature is often regarded as an integral part of a system of former barrier beaches that extend about 40 km from Fairlight in the west to Hythe in the east.

Other well-known cuspate forelands, such as the Darss peninsula on the German Baltic coast, Cape Kennedy in Florida, Cabo Santa Maria on the Portuguese Algarve coast and Cabo Rojo on the Mexican coast, rival and exceed Dungeness for size, but Dungeness is unique globally because it has a number of features that are absent or less well developed elsewhere.

Dungeness is formed almost entirely of flint shingle and is a relatively advanced form of cuspate foreland, much of the shingle having been re-distributed from barrier beaches to form a ness with a particularly acute angle between its two main shorelines. It has long been recognized internationally as a major example of its type. ...

No area inland of beaches to have been occupied and land-claimed over so long a period of time (about 1200 years) has been documented so intensively as Dungeness, and the documentary record extends over a far longer period than for any comparable site.

I followed the walking route clockwise, staring at the visitors' centre. The photographs are presented in chronological order. As usual in my blog posts, when I have seen a new-to-me bird I write more detailed information about it. Where there is little more than the bird's name it is because I have written about this bird in more depth in a previous blog post.

Burrowe's Pit

Coot Fulica atra (12.15)

Herring Gul Larus argentatus and Mute Swan Cygnus olor

Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus (pool to the north-west) of Burrowe's Pool

Bird's-Foot Trefoil (Egg and Bacon Plant) Lotus corniculatus

Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus

Nesting Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo, with the old Dungeness Lighthouse in the background


Redshank Tringa totanus

Teal Anas crecca

Redshank spooked by a Coot


Shelduck Tadorna tadorna

Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis and Oystercatcher

Cattle Egret

Little Egret and Hobby Falco subbuteo

Linnet Linaria cannabina

Cattle Egret

Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiaca

Flying Shelducks

Mute Swans

Cattle Egret

Hobbies Falco subbuteo

I saw ca. 8 Hobbies, mostly flying (hunting); one perched in a tree, and one on the ground. Dungeness is famous for a high abundance of Hobbies because of the nature of its environment

The Hobby is a small falcon, smaller than a Kestrel. With their long wings and streamlined shape, they are perfectly evolved for catching dragonflies and small birds, such as House Martins and Swifts, on the wing, often transferring their quarry from talon to mouth in mid-air. They are a migratory species, coming to Britain in summer to breed and wintering in Africa. Hobbies can be seen hunting over heathlands, flooded gravel pits and woodland edges. Hobby - Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos




Oystercatcher and Mute Swan

Graylag Geese Anser anser

Shelducks and Dungeness B Nuclear Power Station


The hobby is a summer visitor to the UK, coming here to breed before heading south for the winter. Birds begin to arrive from late March onwards and start to depart from late August, with almost all having left by October. Hobbies spend the winter in tropical Africa, flying thousands of miles each year. Hobby (Falco subbuteo) - British Birds - Woodland Trust

Seven Hobbies; hunting - probably for Swifts, of which there were many at Dungeness on 15.05.21; Hobbies like Swifts and Dragonflies; and there aren't many dragonflies around in mid May

Many of our summer birds of prey, the hobby have been seen over the reserve with up to 8 seen at one time. The hobby is a falcon the rough size of kestrel. They soar around the sky looking for prey which is often caught in its talons and transferred to its beak in flight. They will eat insects, particularly dragonflies but could also take small birds and are fast enough to catch a swift in the air. Hobbies can accelerate rapidly in flight and is capable of high-speed aerial manoeuvres. Summer is here! - Dungeness - Dungeness - The RSPB Community

Denge Marsh

Great Crested Grebe

A butterfly - I know not which!

Views of the landscape of RSPB Dungeness

A Herring Gull

Water Tower, next to the ARC (railway) pits.

Swift Apus apus There were lots of Swifts at Dungeness

Magnox Dungeness A Nuclear Power Station and EDF Dungeness B Nuclear Power Station

Dungeness Power Station's nuclear reactors were temporarily shut down over safety fears 16 months ago. But they are expected to be turned back on at Station B later this month and will continue to operate before the site is completely closed down in 2028.

The two nuclear reactors - Dungeness B-21 and B-22 - are currently out of use due to ongoing inspection and repair work of pipes. Once they're up and running again, though, the two advanced gas-cooled reactors will generate up to 615 megawatts of power each. ..

Given the level of strict, stringent health and safety measures in places at Dungeness Power Station, it's extremely unlikely that a nuclear disaster would ever occur.

And according to the American Nuclear Society, it is "impossible" for a reactor to explode like a nuclear weapon because weapons contain "very special materials" in very particular configurations, neither of which are present in a nuclear reactor.

It means that unless a bomb was dropped on the power station, the most likely reason for a disaster would be a nuclear meltdown, which is caused by an accident with the reactor that results in core damage from overheating.

This can cause an explosion of sorts - similar to the steam explosion which caused the Chernobyl nuclear accident - but the most likely impact of a disaster would be radiation from the plant. ... So what if the worst was to happen at Dungeness? How would it change Kent?

To put it simply, it would be absolutely disastrous. There's no way to quantify how many lives would be lost, as that would depend on the nature of the accident and how quickly radiation spreads. But over the course of time, the entire county of Kent and large areas of Sussex, in particular East Sussex towns such as Hastings, would become uninhabitable.

Even areas hundreds of miles away, including in France and mainland Europe, would be affected.

Maps previously created by the Keep Wales Nuclear Free campaign illustrate the potential widespread impact a nuclear accident can have. It shows that people living in Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone, Thanet, Tunbridge Wells and most towns across the county would have to find resettlement elsewhere.


Greylag Goose

Toward Denge Marsh


Sheep (my Grandfather called sheep, ships (Sussex dialect)

A Fox Vulpes vulpes. My grandfather always called foxes reynards (with pronounced d (Sussex dialect from the French, d not pronounced)

Romney Sheep and Dungeness B Nuclear Power Station

The original Romney Marsh sheep were developed on low lying land in Kent and Sussex, adjoining the English Channel. The area was, and still is, exposed and isolated, so that a hardy breed of sheep was produced requiring the minimum of attention. They have little interest in straying off and require a minimum of fencing. The breed expanded over the rest of the South East of England and became known as Kent Sheep. It then spread all over the world and the name Romney came into general use. About – Romney Sheep (

Mute Swan on nest (on Hooker's Pits)


Water Tower, ARC PIts

Sea cushion Armeria maratima

Tufted ducks Aythya fuligula (ARC pit)

Sea campion Silene uniflora

A Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus

A fox on the road to Lydd-on-Sea, next to the reserve

Great Crested Grebes in pots below the RSPB reserve, just above Dungeness power stations

Herring Gull and Dungeness Nuclear Power Stations

A Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs on a post, south of the RSPB reserve, on the Lydd-on-Sea road. (15.51)



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