One way to discover more about the wildlife that exists along our coast is to spend time rockpooling. Here's a list of beaches and bays around the UK to explore
When the waves have retreated and the tide is low, it’s possible to lean over the small pools of water that form on the rocky shoreline and find a microcosm of life under the waves. Shrimp can be found bobbing in the pools and crabs skulk under clumps of seaweed. Starfish cling to the rock face and kelp forests waft in the water, providing cover for snails and small fish. Molluscs, barnacles and anemones sit on the pool floor, and even larger creatures like lobster can be seen if you’re lucky.
Plants and animals that live in rock pools are both fascinating and hardy, surviving a constantly changing environment with fluctuating water temperatures, decreasing oxygen levels and an exposure to sunlight for long periods of time (as well as rough treatment from the incoming sea).
Here is a selection of some of the best places to explore rock pools around the UK's coast:
The inviting sandy expanse of Longis Bay is set between the Nunnery and Victorian Fort Raz on Alderney Island. One of the most popular beaches here, Longis Bay never seems to get crowded and offers safe bathing and a great variety of environments to explore. Trust-run events throughout the summer include kayaking and rock pool snorkelling (equipment provided). Find out more at alderneywildlife.org
2) Seven Sisters, Sussex
The beach at Seven Sisters is used for schools and educational group visits as well as holiday events, which include rockpooling days. These rock pools are a great place to find all the usual suspects that inhabit the Sussex shoreline - some of the most frequently seen inhabitants include the green shore crab, the beadlet anemone and the common periwinkle.
The beach is also a site which is included in the Sussex Shoresearch programme, surveying shoreline wildlife - so detailed records are held of the organisms which have been found here. Rockpooling events are held over the summer. To find out more go to sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk
3) Polzeath Beach, Cornwall
A wealth of invertebrate life clings to the rocks and hides amongst the crevices at Polzeath beach. The beach is part of a Voluntary Marine Conservation Area and the importance of this area for its marine wildlife has been recognised so people are encouraged to rock pool sensibly and thoughtfully by following the seashore code. Cornwall Widlife Trust carries out regular rock pool wildlife surveys here and easy access rockpool rambles.
4) Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset
The Dorset Wildife Trust’s Fine Foundation Marine Centre is open throughout the summer at Kimmeridge Bay with interactive displays, aquaria and rock pool rambles. Other things to do here include mini-beast hunting, seabird spotting, fossil rubbing and eco-crabbing, with all equipment provided.
You can also hire Seashore Explorer backpacks for £5 which contain a rock pool-friendly crab line, seashore ID guides and magnifying bug pots. The included crab kit and fossil rubbing kit are to keep.
5) West Runton Beach, Norfolk
Norfolk Wildlife Trust runs rock pool rummaging events on West Runton beach throughout the summer and shore crabs, beadlet anemones, starfish and squat lobsters are commonly encountered species here.
Children who take part in rockpooling can also get involved in fossil finding, and these sessions not only help children to understand the natural world around them, but also how their actions affect wildlife and habitats. The Trust tailors sessions to suit the needs of any age group.
6) Porth y Pwll, North Wales
Along this stretch of coastline lie many bays which are fantastic rockpooling sites. Porth y Pwll is just one of those, providing pools, gullies and boulders for exploration on an ebbing tide. On spring tides rummage in the kelp beds or take a torch and look into crags under large boulders or in bedrock crevices. Large seaweedy pools give plenty of opportunity to find a variety of creatures and don't forget to marvel at the sheer variety of seaweeds themselves. Species highlights include blue rayed limpets, lobsters, squat lobsters, cushion stars, sunstars and sea hares. More at northwaleswildlifetrust.org.uk
7) Cresswell Foreshore, Northumberland
Cresswell Foreshore is a Northumberland Wildlife Trust nature reserve with a large, wave-cut platform. The beach has also achieved a Quality Coast Award.
Five species of crab have been recorded here, including the porcelain crab, and both butterfish and shanny have also been seen. There is a good variety of seaweeds, including kelp and the pink, feathery coral weed. The site extends up to the sand dunes and is visited by a wide variety of wading birds, including turnstone, purple sandpiper, sanderling and ringed plover. The Trust holds rockpooling events here every Marine Week in August.
8) Roome Bay, Scotland
A south facing sandy cove in the beautiful fishing village of Crail with plenty of great rock pools to explore. Only 10 minutes walk from the centre of Crail, the beach offers peace and quite and a brilliant place to see a variety of sea creatures. There is a sloping grassy area and childrens playground nearby, and a small, old disussed swimming pool is now a haven for local wildlife. The Scottish Wildlife Trust’s nearby Fife Ness Muir and Kilminning Coast nature reserves attract migrant birds, and in 2013 the bay won Fife's 2013 Seaside Award.
9) St Bees Beach, Cumbria
England’s only breeding colony of black guillemots resides at the northern end of St Bees Beach. Beneath the cliffs are a number of rock pools where it's easy to find shore crabs, anemones, whelks and periwinkles. The southern point has large honeycomb worm reefs. Each year Cumbria Wildlife Trust hold a ‘Beached Art’ event here with a sand sculpture competition, rock pooling, coastal walks and bird watching.
10) Flamborough Headland, South Landing, Yorkshire
Stroll from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's Living Seas Centre to the beach at South Landing on Flamborough Headland. The white chalk boulders create a rockpooling paradise for all manner of marine creatures and on a low tide a fantastic kelp forest is exposed. Crab and lobster are plentiful here along with anemones, periwinkles and piddocks. Trust officers based at the Living Seas Centre run Seashore Safaris for all ages and Shoresearch for those who may want to develop their rocky shore wildlife identification skills. Activities run all year round, depending on the weather conditions.
11) Cold Knap Point, Barry
Crabs, shrimps, small fish, limpets, a rainbow of periwinkles can be found whilst rockpooling at Cold Knap Point. This gently sloping pebble beach has lots of crinoids and ‘cockles’ in its rocks, and the cliffs are so low that a rising tide is no threat. Cold Knap beach to the west is good place to find other fossils in the limestone such as gryphea (commonly known as devils toenail) and ammonites.
12) Hannafore Point, Cornwall
Hannafore Point in Looe is a sheltered area of rocky shore and is central to the Looe Voluntary Marine Conservation Area (VMCA). It’s covered in seaweeds of all shapes and sizes, which in turn provide shelter and food for a web of seashore life including starfish, crabs, shore fish and anemones. If the tide is low you may even be lucky enough to find the huge mermaids purse (empty egg cases of the nursehound shark) attached to the weed, or the occasional scallop sitting on the sandy bottom between rocky gullies.
13) Bembridge Ledges, Isle of Wight
The shallow ledges at Bembridge are a wonderful place to take youngsters rockpooling. Look out for beadlet anemones and tiny brittlestars. Bembridge has been recommended as a Marine Conservation Zone as many rare species are found here including seahorses, stalked jellyfish and peacock’s tail seaweed.
Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust runs regular 'rockpool rummages' here.
14) Seaham Beach, County Durham
Seaham Beach is on the Durham Heritage Coast, south of Sunderland and east of Durham. There is a lovely beach and rock pools where the Durham Wildlife Trust often run events in the summer. Species that were found last year include common starfish, velvet swimming crab, hermit crab and butterfish (or rock gunnel). There is car parking at the Seaham Hall beach car park.
15) Porlock Weir, Exmoor Coast
The village of Porlock Weir is right on the shingle beach and with village amenities close to hand it makes an ideal spot for a family beach safari. The Old Red Sandstone boulders that form the beach here have created a multi pool habitat that is great to explore at low tide. Marine molluscs, sea anemones, crabs and a wide range of other marine invertebrates and a great variety of seaweeds are all potential finds for the eagle-eyed seashore scout.
As well as the common beadlet anemone you will find snakelocks anemone, strawberry anemone, dog whelk, common brittle stars and the exotic looking common sun sea star.
This site is now being used by the Somerset Wildlife Trust as a regular intertidal marine life survey point.
16) Saltburn by the Sea, Cleveland
The beach at Saltburn by the Sea in Cleveland is close to the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust nature reserve at Saltburn Gill. There’s everything you need here for a day at the seaside, a long pier, eight miles of golden sands, rock pools, huge cliffs and a promenade full of shops and cafes. At low tide the rock pools are accessible and a variety of species can be found including crabs, squat lobsters and starfish which live alongside beautifully coloured sea anemones, sponges and sea slugs.
Devon Wildlife Trust runs regular rock pool rambles on the beach at Wembury, in south Devon. Wembury is a wildlife hotspot and Voluntary Marine Conservation Area. Its rocky cliffs are home to nesting sea birds, while a rocky shore, slate reefs and massive wave-cut rock platforms provide one of the UK's best spots for marine plants and animals. Wembury Marine Centre is the ideal place to learn about the surrounding area and its wildlife through interactive displays, aquaria and regular rock pool rambles and family events.
Where is it? Wembury is 7 miles south-east of Plymouth. For the beach and Marine Centre continue through the village of Wembury following signs for Beach. National Trust car park (charge for non-NT members.)
18) Killiedraught Bay, St Abbs
Killiedraught Bay, within the Scottish Wildlife Trusts 'St Abbs and Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve', is one of the finest rockpooling sites in Scotland. At low tide you’ll find seaweeds such as bladderwrack and kelp, as well as animals such as the breadcrumb sponge, bootlace worm and butterfish. The cliffs at St Abbs Head, a short way up the coast, are home to 50,000 seabirds in spring and summer, including guillemots, razorbills, kittwakes and shags.
Cornwall Wildlife Trust holds regular marine discovery days at Gyllyngvase Beach near Falmouth. The many rock pools here are bursting with colourful life. In the shallow pools on the upper shore you’ll find winkles and shrimps, while the deeper pools on the reef edge are full of squat lobsters and crabs. This accessible site is a great place to enthuse young rockpoolers.
20) St. Agnes Beach, Cornwall
The large village of St. Agnes on the north Cornish coast is a rock pool heaven. In common with other north Cornish sites, this is a sandy beach with boulders and rocky outcrops. You'll find lots of different seaweeds, as well as topshells, winkles, limpets, dahlia anemones, cushion stars and crabs. It's a good spot for fish too, including Cornish sucker fish, blennies, rocklings and sea scorpions. Explore the overhangs and gullies for star seasquirts and a variety of sponges.
21) Cemlyn Bay, Angelsey
There’s some great rockpooling to be had at Cemlyn Bay at North Wales Wildlife Trust's Cemyln nature reserve. Here you’ll find a range of different types of shore within walking distance of each other. Take some time to lift your head up from the rock pools and you’ll see terns flying close overhead with beaks full of fish. If you visit nearby Trwyn Cemlyn it’s always worth keeping an eye out for seals, porpoises and dolphins. Never a dull rockpool ramble here!
22) Allonby Bay, Cumbria
Allonby Bay runs alongside the Maryport Golf Club in Cumbria and has an interesting reef of boulders. Competition for space on the rocks is fierce. Unusually, the entire wildlife community here switches between two alternate states – mussel beds and reefs of honeycomb worms - each with its own array of plants and animals. Cumbria Wildlife Trust hold regular beach walks here.
23) Dunseverick Harbour, Co Antrim
Dunseverick Harbour (near Portrush, Co Antrim) has the deepest natural pools in Northern Ireland. Here you can swim amongst an extraordinary range of marine plants and animals, including the sea hare, china limpet and needle whelk. You can learn more about the history of the Dunsvernick area on the 'Causeway Coastal Walk'. Rathlin Island nearby is home to sponges that are found nowhere else in the world.
24) Calgary Beach, Isle of Mull
At Calgary beach not only can you find urchins, starfish, crabs, squat lobsters and jellyfish, but if you’re very lucky you might spot otters playing on the shore. Seals, porpoises, dolphins and minke whales are also regular visitors around the island’s coast.
Where is it? Calgary beach is on the north-west coast of the Island of Mull, 12 miles from the Islands capital, Tobermory.