England has a desert?
When I think desert, I normally envision cacti, sand, camels and that sort of thing, but that’s an inaccurate and stereotypical point of view. A desert doesn’t require scorching heat. Antarctica is a desert.
It is claimed by numerous sources that even England has a desert. It is located at Dungeness, a headland on the east coast of Kent. But is it really a desert?
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In this instance I think the term desert has been applied to Dungeness because of the "deserted" nature of the parcel rather than anything to do with rainfall. Clearly there is an abundance of greenery surrounding the headland on its periphery and beyond. Just zoom out on the map and notice all the farms. I’ve not been able to find anything that indicates an extremely local lack of precipitation although I suppose that’s possible.
It’s an unusual formation. Sediments move along beaches through wave action. Sometimes local conditions cause sediments from different points to move towards each other to build up a headland. This is an extremely simplified description of a cuspate foreland, the condition found at Dungeness. Here the sediment is shingle, or small pebbles smoothed by the waves. Think miniature cobblestones and you’re on the right track. England’s desert is one of the largest and most ecologically significant shingle beaches anywhere on the planet. Its curious geography provides habitats for extremely rare insects, birds and plants, including several not seen elsewhere in Britain.
England’s desert also has historical significance.
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This is an acoustic mirror at Denge, a former Royal Air Force site at the northern edge of the Dungeness shingle. These experimental "listening ears" served in the 1920’s-1930’s. They were designed to provide advance warning of airborne attacks approaching Britain, able to detect sounds up to thirty kilometres away under optimal conditions and able to determine the direction of attack. Their usefulness began to decrease as newer airplanes began to fly faster and faster. Thirty kilometres didn’t provide much of a buffer. Thereafter, radar technology made the acoustic mirrors wholly obsolete.
There are also lighthouses, a nuclear power station, and a whole cast of eclectic residents (including at least one person of renown at the time of his passing). It hardly sounds like a desert either in the classic sense or within the expanded definition, perhaps a little bleak of landscape but fascinating in so many other respects.
Here are some photos I’ve scrounged up from the Intertubes:
Has anyone visited this place? Any first-hand accounts from the readership?