The Sandwich Bay coastline and all the marshes inland to the River Stour have been created by the northerly drift of sand and shingle, together with deposits of alluvium over many centuries.

This process is still taking place. It is interesting to reflect that almost all of the area of the Sandwich and Pegwell Bay Nature Reserves has been laid down since the 18th century. Great changes have taken place since the Sandwich Tern and the Kentish Plover regularly bred here and were first described by Dr John Latham, the eminent naturalist of the day, from specimens taken at Sandwich Bay in 1784 and 1787 by William Boys, Sandwich historian and Fellow of the Linnaean Society.

An aerial view of Sandwich Bay
An aerial view of Sandwich Bay

The sandhills still attract naturalists to study the rich flora and fauna of the area, a stretch of coastal dunes unique in the county of Kent and recognised as being of the highest scientific value. Bordering the dunes, a colony of Little Terns was wardened for many years in conjunction with the Kent Trust for Nature Conservation (now the Kent Wildlife Trust) but, as with most colonies of this species in this country, they have declined or deserted, in this case largely due to human disturbance.

Sandwich Bay was one of the country’s first independent ringing stations, founded by local naturalists in 1952. Official Observatory status was achieved in 1962 when, with the kind co-operation of Mr Alan Daw and sons, we were able to move onto the site of our present headquarters. The ringing and bird recording are still carried out within the rules of the Bird Observatories Council and the British Trust for Ornithology.

The Observatory achieved Charitable Trust status in 1984 and two years later 22 acres of land, known as Restharrow Dunes Nature Reserve, was purchased on Sandwich Bay Estate. This is a home to rare plants and invertebrates.

In 1994 the Trust created a fresh-water wader scrape to attract migrant waders in spring and autumn at Backsand Point, downstream of Sandwich, and a second scrape was created on leased land opposite Restharrow Dunes in 2002. Backsand Scrape was later to fall out of use following flood damage.

The present Field Centre was opened in 2002 and has allowed the work of the Trust to expand in more comfortable and better-equipped surroundings with meeting rooms, a reference library and a range of comfortable self-catering accommodation provided. At about the same time, an agreement was reached with local farmers Richard and Nigel Daw to lease some substantial areas of land and on one of these, Restharrow Field, the Observatory excavated a wader scrape and installed a bird observation hide.

In more recent years the Observatory Trust has been able to acquire several important areas of land in and around Sandwich Bay Estate, including the purchase of the Restharrow Field, which allowed the extension of the scrape there. Other areas of land have been gifted or are on a long lease.

The Observatory Trust is committed to its educational and outreach role and there has been a marked increase in activities in these areas, working with local schools, colleges and universities, as well as the wider community. Links to other conservation bodies have also been strengthened.

In view of the growing range and complexity of the Observatory’s operations, a decision was made in 2019 to convert the charitable status of the Trust to become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation or CIO. This conversion was officially approved by the Charities Commission early in 2022 and will ensure the stability and strength of the Observatory for the future.

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