ROCK­POOL FOR­AG­ING

Sweep­ing a net through salt­wa­ter to bring it back drip­ping, sea­weed-strewn and packed with prawns is one of na­ture’s great­est treats, says Rob Yorke

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents -

Scour the seashore for mouth­wa­ter­ing treats and in­trigu­ing wildlife dis­cov­er­ies.

We, in the UK, are is­lan­ders. Some of us are far from sandy beaches or rocky coves and can sur­vive for rea­son­able pe­ri­ods of time with­out get­ting to the sea. But when a rocky shore­line is on of­fer, ev­ery­thing changes.

As a child, I was for­tu­nate to be able to for­age, fish and ex­plore along­side a Scot­tish sea loch and it has hard­wired in me a pas­sion to reach for a net.

No one is sup­posed to know when I head for that rocky shore­line. It’s an in­dul­gence – “a wild call and clear call that may not be de­nied” (Sea Fever, John Mase­field). It’s a mid­day, mid­week, per­haps even mid-life cri­sis, as I scram­ble down sea-thrift-cov­ered grassy cliff, away from smart­phones, su­per­mar­kets and re­spon­si­bil­ity, and to­wards sea­weed-smoth­ered stones.

Whether you’re King Canute or not, on th­ese sea­side jaunts, the tide is the mas­ter, so know your tideta­bles. I stalk shal­low or deep-se­cret, ever-shift­ing rock­pools on in­com­ing and out­go­ing tides, as rock­pool life re­acts to the ebb and flow of wa­ter. Ev­ery year is dif­fer­ent – but the best time to go is be­tween late June to early Septem­ber when the sun is high, no wind and the wa­ter warm­est.

SHELL-BENT ON PRAWNS

Prawns live in awk­ward places, so a strong back and sense of bal­ance are help­ful. This can be back-bend­ing work, but it’s light­ened with joy, dis­cov­ery and eu­phoric red-let­ter days. Travel light when ex­plor­ing a rocky beach, and be ready to get wet. For tools, you need a fine meshed net of any size on a strong han­dle, a couple of saucepans, a stove or drift­wood fire, and matches. (But­ter and gar­lic are lux­ury items but worth pack­ing if you feel op­ti­mistic.)

The turn of ev­ery tide cov­ers and un­cov­ers de­lights re­newed on a daily ba­sis, pro­vid­ing any amount of wildlife. Small fish – from strik­ing coloured cork­wing wrasse, lop­sided dabs and bob­bled-eyed go­bies – lie still in your net. Some­times a sandy brown­flecked shrimp; some­times an im­mor­tal sea anemone or an im­pos­si­bly in­dis­tinct sea spi­der.

And, hope­fully, you’ll net a hand­ful of translu­cent sharp-nosed prawns. Re­turn small ones and any with dark eggs held in their legs. The larger ones can be dropped into a sea­weed­soaked con­tainer – keep the prawns damp un­til last mo­ment of plac­ing into boil­ing (not just hot) wa­ter.

Cook and eat them as fresh as pos­si­ble, prefer­ably whole, with fin­gers or sharp­ened bleached drift­wood sticks and, as the all- con­sum­ing tide sub­merges the pools, sit back on your haunches to enjoy one of the most mouth-wa­ter­ing, sat­is­fy­ing feasts known to hu­mankind.

HANDS-ON SEASHORE HUNT­ING

This con­nec­tion with food draws me clos­est to na­ture. Not through TV screens or along des­ig­nated board­walks, but im­mersed in it up to my knees and el­bows. A place of raw na­ture, red in tooth and claw, where starfish in­vert their stom­achs to dis­solve shell­fish, swarms of jel­ly­fish are washed up on wild waves and you your­self are un­der con­tin­u­ous scru­tiny.

Her­ring gulls watch your ev­ery move, herons com­pete in nearby pools, oys­ter­catch­ers stab mus­sels, her­mit crabs peer out of shells, choughs call from crum­bling cliffs and bold, if not reck­less, prawns nib­ble your legs.

Oh yes, as for those red-let­ter days? Well, a cruel re­treat­ing tide once left hun­dreds of white­bait in swirling bait­ball-filled pools – the birds were not the only ones to feast hand­somely that day. An­other mo­men­tous day oc­cured when a friend, wield­ing a tiny net, emerged drip­ping from a rock­pool with a fully grown lob­ster.

We can­not forget that we are part of na­ture, nor over­look its ben­e­fits to us, from smell, touch, sight, sound and taste. By lightly hunt­ing the har­vest within our is­lan­der habi­tat, we hu­mans can re­turn to our roots and tap into our nat­u­ral in­stincts.

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1 The finest, largest, tasti­est prawn Wood, flame and seafood – sup­per’s served Rob’s tools in­clude a net and a long-han­dled spoon More than a pint of prawns Stom­ach-in­vert­ing starfish Cork­wing wrasse Beadlet sea anemones break up and re-grow A stand-off be­tween a shore crab and goby fish Prawns live in awk­ward places

The rock­pools of the UK are beau­ti­fully un­ex­plored

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