No matter where you are in the UK, you’re never more than 70 miles away from the coast. Summer is simply not complete without a trip to the seaside – but have you ever seen the wild side of the great British coast?
Midsummer brings out the best in the British coastline – rain or shine. Coastal grasslands and salt marshes are in bloom, nesting seabirds turn our cliffs into cacophonous colonies and our seas are alive with wildlife that most people wouldn’t believe can be found in British seas!
So, if you fancy something beyond the normal deckchairs, Punch & Judy shows and soggy fish and chips, here are 5 ideas for wild days out at the great British seaside – suitable for families and intrepid explorers alike for some perky green travel…
Spot Ocean Giants
More than 30 species of marine mammal and 30 species of shark can be found in UK seas – with the summer months best for spotting them from shore. Armed with nothing more than a bit of patience (and some binoculars if you have them), find yourself a vantage point – a headland, a cliff top or even a pier – and see what you can spot. It’s best to scan the waves with your naked eye and then investigate any movement or splashing with binoculars if you have them. Many species can be spotted from shore, most commonly:
Seals: Grey Seals and Common Seals are UK residents – keep an eye out for their inquisitive dog-like heads popping up to check you out.
Harbour Porpoise: Our smallest and shyest cetacean is common around our coast and identifiable by their stubby triangular shaped fin. On a calm day, listen out for a sharp “chuff” of air as they exhale – giving them their endearing nickname of “Puffing Pigs”.
Dolphins: 7 species of dolphin frequent UK seas – but you’re most likely to see the charismatic bottlenose dolphin. Look out for sickle shaped fins and boisterous behaviour.
Basking Sharks: The world’s second largest fish visits our seas every summer – but no need to fear, they only feed on plankton! Look out for 2 broad triangular fins swaying at the surface as they feed.
Rare treats: Humpback whales are making a comeback to UK seas, so you might be lucky enough to spot one of these majestic mysticetes on a coastal visit. Other rarer ocean giants to be spotted include sunfish (the world’s largest bony fish) and even orca!
Do a Strandline Safari
The line of seaweed, flotsam and general marine debris at the head of our shores is called the strandline. Despite its humble appearances, the strandline can be a cache of countless treasures for the keen-eyed beachcomber. Why not challenge your family to a treasure hunt? 10 minutes of searching and the one with the best find wins an ice cream!
Look closely amongst the seaweed and you might be lucky enough to find a mermaid’s purse. These tough, leathery pouches are the eggcases of the sharks and rays that live in our seas – and finding them is a great indicator of what species are living off your favourite stretch of coast. Most common are the eggcases of smallspotted catsharks (once known as dogfish!) or nursehounds; but you might be fortunate to find the eggcases of our resident ray species too.
Rarer still are the much coveted sea beans that are found from time to time on UK shores. Also known as drift seeds, these are seeds or fruits of tropical plants that have been carried across the ocean from far-distant sunny shores. Spot a dull grey lump of waxy “rock” and you’re quids in! Ambergris is produced in the digestive system of sperm whales and is used in expensive perfumes as a fixative. Crafters will love the seaglass and pottery fragments that can be found on many beaches, including glass bottle stoppers and even old cruise line crockery.
Amongst these treasures lies the scourge of every shoreline the world over: marine litter. Balloons, plastic toys, barnacle encrusted shoes and countless plastic bottles congregate in the strandline – never biodegrading, simply fragmenting into smaller and smaller pieces and posing an ever greater danger to marine wildlife. At the end of your safari, why not do a 2 minute beach clean? Everyone’s got 2 minutes to spare, so why not spend it collecting up marine litter on your way back to the car – recycling what you can and disposing safely of the rest. Standing alone it’s a big problem, but together we can be the solution.
Watch the REAL Rocky Horror Show
Rockpooling is often our first introduction to the marine environment, a window to the world beyond the waves; but is life in our rockpools really as it seems? Welcome to a world of battling anemones, body hacking barnacles and brain digesting sea squirts!
Every summer, to mark summer’s crescendo of wildness and wonder, The Wildlife Trusts celebrate National Marine Week (23 July – 7 August 2016). In 2016, we’re celebrating the weird and wonderful cast of characters that live in our rockpools, exploring the REAL rocky horror show!
Rockpooling is the perfect seaside activity – free, easy and no equipment required. Remember to keep an eye on the tides and the put every one of the rocky horror show stars back where you found them. Avoid pulling anybody off rocks or ledges – removing limpets can kill them, so leave them be.
To whet your appetite for the real thing, check out these fantastic videos or arm yourself with this helpful ID guide!
Go for a Wild Snorkel
UK seas are full of amazing life and colour – and you only have to swim out a few metres to spot some awe-inspiring marine wildlife. Snorkelling on seagrass beds – found in very shallow waters in sheltered bays and coves – can bring sightings that most people wouldn’t believe happened in the UK! How about the electric blue pulses on the back of an undulate ray? Or – if you’re very lucky – the sight of a seahorse, tail curled around a blade of seagrass?
Head off along the rocky reefs that jut out of rocky coves and you might spot the rainbow coloured male Cuckoo Wrasse, the colour changing cuttlefish or perhaps even a garden of sea anemones covering the rocky walls…
If you’ve no snorkel, why not go for a wild swim instead? Only swim so far as you are comfortable, tell someone you are going out and be careful to observe all Beach Lifeguard advice as directed.
Create your own masterpiece
At first glance, the marine debris adorning our beaches is non-descript, unsightly even – but what if it was your artist’s palette? Desiccated seaweed becomes hair for a mermaid, shells morph into teeth for a shark, stones become the outline of a thousand possible subjects: turtles, mythical beasts, (un)flattering portraits; the sand is your blank canvas, primed by the last tide and just waiting for a (perhaps long forgotten) creative touch.
Turn it into a competition: Mum’s team vs Dad’s team, boyfriend vs girlfriend, friend vs stranger. Hours of fun guaranteed, completely free – and your masterpieces will survive to inspire the next wave of beachwalkers; at least until the next tide!
Bring the sea to you!
Can’t make it to the seaside this summer? You don’t have to miss out – why not bring the sea to you?
Watch a wild webcam, change your ringtone to the sounds of crashing waves or make a small change to help our seas.
Let us know about your love for the British seaside – your favourite spots, fun things to do or best beaches. Leave a comment below or share this story on Facebook.
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