The Romney Marshes is an open landscape of reclaimed, low-lying marshland. The area is bounded to the south and east by the English Channel and to the north and west by the clearly recognisable ancient cliff-line, which now forms the backdrop to the marshes. It includes the vast sand and shingle beaches and flat marshland between Hythe in Kent and Pett in Sussex. This unique and sometimes forbidding area has a character all of its own and contains a wealth of wildlife and geomorphological features. Dungeness is an area of international importance for its geomorphology, plants, invertebrates and birds. Home to some of the UK’s rarest species it is designated as a National Nature Reserve, Special Area of Conservation, Special Protection Area and Site of Special Scientific Interest, as well as being a proposed Ramsar site. Dungeness and Rye Harbour comprise the largest cuspate shingle foreland in Europe, one of the few such large examples in the world.
Scattered settlements are linked by long, straight, open roads and have a distinctive architectural character, including weatherboarding and hung tiles; many have medieval churches at their core. The ancient towns of Rye and Winchelsea are popular tourist attractions, abound with heritage features. However, overall, urban areas account for a small proportion of this rural National Character Area (NCA). The transport links are sparse, and this, coupled with the nature of the landscape, rural isolation and lack of employment, means that the area suffers from issues of social and economic deprivation.
The extensive marshes of the hinterland, now a mixture of arable and grazing land dissected by an extensive network of ditches and watercourses, support a rich flora and fauna and form a striking contrast to the coastal habitats of sandy and shingle beaches, freshwater pits, sand dunes, saline lagoons and flooded gravel pits. The open water network is a vital component of the marshes’ irrigation and drainage network.
Approximately a quarter of the NCA is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and includes the valleys of the Rother and Brede. These form distinct areas within the NCA which, radiating from the core of the marsh, act as corridors out into the adjoining High Weald NCA and have a unique character. They have a key role to play in connectivity of habitats and linkages to the wider marshland landscape.
The coast continues to evolve; pressures of sea level rise and climate change will result in coastal change, and informed decision making will be critical in helping coastal communities and habitats to adapt to change. Much of the area is well below the high tide level and, as such, is at risk of flooding.
Human land use has had a major role in fashioning the present landscape, through the drainage of marshes, military activity, gravel digging and the construction of sea walls, housing, tourist amenities, roads, a wind farm, an airport and Dungeness Power Station. The character of the Romney Marshes can be conserved for the future only if the demands on agriculture, commerce, recreation and conservation can be reconciled. A continual balance needs to be struck in an area that is internationally important for geomorphology and wildlife but where local communities strive to make a living and enjoy the natural assets on their doorstep and where industries seek to exploit the natural assets of the NCA for their economic value.
123 Romney Marshes (NE499)