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British Desert

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1195230.  Sat Jun 18, 2016 11:02 am Reply with quote

Did you know the UK has a desert!

Dungeness lies at the southernmost point of Kent and is a veritable desert of gravel and shell debris. A strange atmosphere can be found nowadays: two lighthouses are visible from afar, narrow streets, little fishing houses and a steam-powered narrow gauge railway. The surreal environment is dominated by telephone and power lines. A nuclear power plant can also be found while the modern concrete lighthouse provides a highly visible contrast to this strange area.

1195254.  Sat Jun 18, 2016 9:27 pm Reply with quote

Does it meet the classic definition of a desert though? I think that's an area that gets less than 10 inches of rain a year. I can't imagine any part of the UK gets as little as that.

1195285.  Sun Jun 19, 2016 6:52 am Reply with quote

Classified as Britainís only desert, due to its dryness and spectacular lack of surface vegetation, it has the bare and windblown appearance of some Wild West border zone: all stones and shacks and the lone whistle of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway loco, drifting across the emptiness. Explore a little farther, though, and you find people who, in common with their furred and feathered counterparts, have been drawn out here to the wilderness.

1195322.  Sun Jun 19, 2016 4:39 pm Reply with quote

The elves looked into the definition of a desert a few years back. There's more than one definition, but the one used by climate scientists is that an area is a desert iff it has a "negative water budget", which means if rainfall is less than potential evaporation. Potential evaporation is a theoretical construct - it is the amount of water that could evaporate (or be consumed by plants) if only it were there to start with.

The example used back then concerned Tucson AZ. Tucson receives about 12 inches of rainfall per year, but the climate is such that 98 inches of rainfall would evaporate if only it fell. So Tucson has a water budget of minus 86 inches per year - which classifies it as desert.

Average annual rainfall at Dungeness is in fact about 28 inches. (climate data) That's drier than most of England - all of the south east sees much less rain than Wales, Cornwall, or Cumbria - but in fact England's driest counties are Essex and Cambridgeshire. (See this map from the Met Office.)

The driest town in England is usually said to be St Osyth near Clacton, which averages 19 inches of rain per year. St Osyth doesn't have a weather station, but the nearest place which does - Walton on the Naze - averages 22 inches per year. (climate data)

Here we see the Met Office telling The Guardian that Dungeness isn't a desert under any of the conventional definitions, contrary to an earlier report in the same newspaper.

1195342.  Sun Jun 19, 2016 8:00 pm Reply with quote

I have a vague recollection of being dragged to Derek Jarman's garden at Dungeness - as I recall, there's a sign up that says something like "bugger off you tourists who are here to visit Derek Jarman's garden". Or did I dream that?

1195356.  Mon Jun 20, 2016 2:09 am Reply with quote

I visited Dungeness about 30 years ago. Very bleak and unlike anywhere else I had seen in England. Reminded me of a scene from a TV adaptation of 'Great Expectations' and also of the poem 'Peter Grimes.'


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