Vegetated shingle

View of back of beach - Patrick Fitzsimmons
View of back of beach - Patrick Fitzsimmons

Most of the shingle around our coast forms fringing beaches. Most of the shingle is within reach of the waves and so is very mobile. Where it is thrown beyond the reach of the waves, it begins to build up and some specialised plants can can start to take hold.

Beaches like this are very rare globally – outside of northwest Europe they can only be found in Japan and New Zealand.

There are around 5000 hectares of vegetated shingle in England, more than half of which is at just two sites, Rye Harbour and Dungeness. East and West Sussex have about 1000 hectares, which is a fifth of the English resource.

Shingle beaches are harsh environments for plants. There is hardly any soil, very little freshwater, strong winds, salt spray and sometimes inundation by the sea, burial or even the loss of whole ridges during big storms.

A few plants have developed special adaptations to survive these conditions. These include hugging the shingle in low growing mats to prevent water loss, forming extensive root sytems to bind the shingle together and prevent it collapsing, and having thick fleshy or grey/ green leaves to prevent moisture loss.

Sea kale flowers - Barry Yates
Sea kale flowers - Barry Yates
Seven Sisters Country Park