SCHOOL OF ROCK POOLS

The seashore is teem­ing with in­ter­est­ing crea­tures – but don’t just dig in with­out a plan, says Jake Wal­lis Si­mons

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Front Page -

Proper prior plan­ning pre­vents painfully poor per­for­mance. Some weeks ago, on a rocky Nor­folk beach, I proved that adage to my­self. We were stay­ing with the in-laws, and had de­cided to go rock pool­ing. It was a beau­ti­ful af­ter­noon, and the beach was busy. I left my wife to re­lax on the beach towel, armed the chil­dren with buck­ets, and led them out onto the rocks. Af­ter 10 min­utes of hunt­ing we had found noth­ing. Not a crab, not a mol­lusc, not even a de­cent bit of sea­weed. The chil­dren were get­ting frus­trated. It looked like we would re­turn empty-handed. Dad, I feared, was head­ing for hu­mil­i­a­tion. The day was saved by a mys­tery man in Ber­muda shorts and san­dals. “There you are,” he said in broad Nor­folk twang, point­ing at a patch of wet sand, “there’s a crab in there.” We stared but could see noth­ing. He dug in his fin­gers and lo, just be­low the sur­face, a crab lay hid­den. “They like to mask them­selves like that,” he said, brush­ing it off and drop­ping it into my daugh­ter’s bucket. “You can spot them by the lit­tle bub­bling air holes.” We were tri­umphant. When I turned to thank him, he was gone. “If you don’t know what you’re do­ing, there are any num­ber of things that can go wrong,” says Maya Plass, the marine and coastal ecol­o­gist who is pre­sent­ing the next se­ries of Spring­watch. “The tide might not be as low as you think. You might choose a tricky part of the beach. If it is very busy, that can make things dif­fi­cult.” The moral of the story is sim­ple. If you know where to go, when to go, what to take with you and what to look for, the chil­dren will get much more out of it. You’ll be less stressed, and you may even gain the re­spect of your other half. Maya’s new book, RSPB Hand­book of the Seashore (Blooms­bury, £12.99), is a handy re­source. And if all else fails, ask a lo­cal. WHERE TO GO The best places to find in­ter­est­ing crea­tures are fairly shel­tered, rocky seashores, whether they are grav­elly or sandy. The un­der­side of boul­ders, piers and pon­toons can pro­vide rich pick­ings. The bot­tom of Sal­combe pier in Devon, for ex­am­ple, is cov­ered with sea squirts, also known as sea pigs, which have two holes on top like a pig’s nose. You can also find star as­cid­i­ans there, too; th­ese are beau­ti­ful, jel­ly­like, glassy crea­tures that look as if they have been painted with flower de­signs. Most im­por­tantly, seek lo­cal ad­vice. “Noth­ing beats ask­ing the peo­ple who are in the know,” says Maya. “Some places might look ideal, but have strong cur­rents.” BEST FOR SANDY DIGS Crabs, starfish and other sand- dwelling crea­tures can be found at Cam­ber Sands, East Sus­sex; Wem­bury Beach and South Mil­ton Sands in Devon; and Portreath on the north coast of Corn­wall. BEST FOR UN­DER-PIERHUNTS Th­ese wet, shady en­vi­ron­ments are per­fect for marine life. Aberys­t­wyth; Treard­dur Bay, An­gle­sey; Sal­combe, Devon. BEST FOR ROCKY EX­PLOR­ING The flat bedrock at Whitby, North York­shire, of­fers ex­cel­lent fool’s gold and fos­sils, as does Hil­bre Is­land near Liver­pool. The Isle of Skye has a rocky shore­line, teem­ing with life. WHEN TO GO The lower the tide, the more un­usual things you will find in the low­est part of the shore. Marine re­searchers al­ways go on field trips dur­ing the equinox, or when the moon is full or new, when the tides are at their low­est. Con­sult a tide ta­ble be­fore you set off. Th­ese are read­ily avail­able in lo­cal newsagents, petrol sta­tions and shops; you can also use the app UK Tides, or visit web­sites such as http://easytide.ukho.gov.uk. Head out an hour or two be­fore low tide, so that you have plenty of time to walk out with the tide and the most time at the low­est point be­fore the tide comes in around you. Tough, water­proof footwear is im­por­tant, as rocks can be slip­pery and sharp. You’ll also need plenty of pro­tec­tive sun cream and sun hats, as the­wa­ter can re­flect the sun up at you. Nets are gen­er­ally dis­cour­aged as they can dam­age the ecosys­tems. It is bet­ter to col­lect an­i­mals with your hands so as not to hurt them. Pick up crabs by plac­ing a fin­ger and thumb on the top and bot­tom of the cara­pace. Use clear buck­ets or Tup­per­ware boxes, as th­ese will al­lowyou to viewthe crea­tures frombe­low. If you find a cush­ion starfish, for ex­am­ple, youwill be able to see the mouth and suck­ers on the un­der­side, and the chil­dren can see howit clings to the­wall of the bucket. Make sure you change wa­ter reg­u­larly and keep the crea­tures sep­a­rate so that they don’t at­tack each other.

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