Consulting the Kingsdown Guide (available online on Kingsdown.net), I see that Dennis Harle contributed a drawing but only a description in his article on the wildlife of Kingsdown:
'..of great interest is the procumbent oak tree which spreads, its contorted branches over a wide area of the beach.'
The tree, a common (pendunculate) oak, has a spread of branches of about 30' in diameter , and less than 5' tall at its highest point. This shape is presumably in reaction to the wind and salt from the nearby sea, and/or the difficulty in drawing adequate moisture from the thin soil - the shingle overlays chalk here, with very little soil depth.
It was trimmed a few years ago, as it was looking sickly after some hot dry summers. Judging by its leaves now, it seems reasonably healthy, but it appears not have produced any acorns this year. It would be interesting to know how old this tree is.
The trunk appears to be replaced by a number of lateral boughs from which the leaf branches sprout. Some Holm Oaks have seeded themselves under parts of the canopy, and have already grown taller - presumably these should be removed to prevent the main tree from being crowded out.
A recent posting on the RX Rye site described a similar oak on the shingle at Dungeness:
The Dungeness Oak 3rd November 2007, Saturday
As you drive to the lighthouses you pass a remarkably discrete forty year old oak tree, a metre or two from the inland side of the road on Dungeness. Its only about 1m high, due to the pressures of growing on the harsh shingle environment. Branches get scorched by salt-laden winds, and leaves devoured by the voracious brown-tailed moth. As a result the multiple stems grow sideways across the shingle rather than upwards, although they do not spread out as far as you would expect for a tree of that age. This is a phenomenon that affects a range of scrub and tree species on this site.
With luck it might end up like the massive prostrate oak tree on the shingle at Kingsdown Beach in Kent that is much older and larger. Sprawling across the shingle it is a magnificant sight. We probably don’t have any older oaks on the tip of Dungeness because until the early part of the last century the beach was grazed by 3000 sheep in the winter, and small numbers of goats all year. Dungeness Estate was remarkably clear of vegetation.
and feasting on the leaves were two insects which I took to be common wasps, but (noting the hairy thorax and abdomen and long black antennae) I assume they are something else. Any ID assistance would be appreciated.
Near to the oak and along the beach towards Deal are numerous evergreen Holm Oaks. These are common trees in the village, and grow vigorously as I can testify.....a small seedling was in our front garden when we moved in 21 years ago - despite aggressive hacking and pruning it is now huge. And we've got less than six inches of soil over the chalk.
No, that's not where we live, that's Walmer Castle, just down the road. The Holm Oaks have produced acorns this year.