Marine and coastal life has changed dramatically over the past century. But how do we know this? And why is this useful to us now? Pieces of this puzzle can be put together through delving into our natural history collections from the past 100 years.
Just off the coast of Brighton, tucked away beneath the waves we have a huge variety of marine habitats including hidden chalk cliffs and reefs – with their rich and colourful diversity of life, they are as good as any tropical reef! When the tide is low, Rockpooling gives us a glimpse into this underwater world, and you don’t have to go far from Brighton to explore some of the best ones.
The Undercliff Walk
The closest pools to Brighton city centre are near Brighton Marina along the Undercliff walk. These pools are within the Beachy Head West Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ). Beachy Head West was one of the first MCZs to be established in the country. The chalk reef is among the best examples of marine chalk habitats in the south east, which supports so many species and when revealed, the Rockpools are full of hidden gems.
So…let’s get started!
First things first, check the tide times! Sometimes you only have a small window of time to search the Rockpools, so checking this is key. There have been a couple of times where I’ve made my friends come with me, only to find the tide is in and the rockpools are covered. Don’t make my mistake! Good sites to use are magic seaweed or tidetimes.
Equipment and footwear
Footwear with a good grip is essential – the rocks can get really slippery; wellies or waterproof trail shoes work well, but beach shoes are the best. Don’t forget sunscreen, a hat and take plenty of water to drink – you will be really exposed to the sun on the rocks. The Wildlife Trust’s top tips for rockpooling shows you the basic equipment you need to take with you to safely observe the animals.
The Wildlife Trust’s Spotter sheet is a great way to help you identify your finds if you’re a first-timer. As you become more familiar with the species there are some excellent pocket guides out there like Collins Complete Guide to British Coastal Wildlife or The Essential Guide to Rockpooling
Searching for animals
The far end of the beach towards the sea is the best place to start your search as the deeper pools are here. You can then make your way back towards the beach to search the shallower pools. Animals like to keep cool and damp, so searching under rocks and overhangs will give you a better chance of spotting them. Turn rocks and seaweed over slowly and gently, the longer you look, the more chance you will see things. Listen out for the sounds of fish splashing and crabs clicking too.
The animals in rockpools are quite vulnerable so ensure you turn rocks over and put them back as slowly as possible. Check constantly to see if anything has moved under where you are going to put the rock back. If you collect anything in a bucket don’t keep it in there for long as it will get stressed by the temperature. Return everything you find to the pools as close to where you found it as possible.
Always something new!
The best thing about rockpooling is you always spot something new each time you go. Here are some animals I have spotted during my time rockpooling this summer on the Undercliff pools.
Spiny spider crab
Reporting your finds
Reporting rare finds to wildlife charities can be really important as it helps be build up a more detailed picture of the wildlife that lives in specific habitats. If rare species are found their is a higher likelihood that the areas will be protected in the future. Find out how data reports helped towards creating Marine Conservation Zones here.
You can report your finds to:
You can find out about the latest interesting reported finds on the glaucus website
Sussex Wildlife Trust talk to us about the latest updates of their HelpOurKelp campaign, why kelp is important and what you can do to get involved.
Kelp is the name given to a group of brown seaweeds, usually large in size, that are capable of forming dense aggregations known as ‘kelp forests’.
Historically, kelp was abundant along the West Sussex coastline. But this important habitat has diminished over time, leaving just a few small patches and individual plants, mostly in shallow water and along the shoreline. Through the Help Our Kelp partnership, we want to bring it back!
Why we should Help Our Kelp!
How far have we come?
The first step towards restoration is to put fisheries management in place. Whilst there are a number of factors that may be affecting the kelp, one manageable factor is fishing effort.
The Sussex IFCA, who manage fishing within six nautical miles from the Sussex shore, agreed a new byelaw on 23 January 2020 which will see trawling excluded from a vast 304 km2 of Sussex coastline year-round. The decision was made following an extensive consultation period, which saw overwhelming support demonstrated by almost 2,500 people in response to the Help Our Kelp campaign.
Sussex Wildlife Trust is delighted to be working alongside Big Wave Productions, BLUE Marine Foundation, Marine Conservation Society and University of Portsmouth as the Help Our Kelp Partnership. Together we have contacted Secretary of State George Eustice directly, urging him to sign the byelaw swiftly, and encouraged all Sussex MPs to do the same. We have done this understanding the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis and the important roles that DEFRA and our local MPs are playing.
As lockdown restrictions start to ease, we wish to put this critical byelaw back on the political agenda. We see it as a win-win scenario for Sussex, both for its people and its wildlife. Getting the byelaw signed is a positive and unprecedented action for a more sustainable Sussex.
Click hereto learn more and to watch the stunning campaign film created by Big Wave Productions, narrated by David Attenborough himself.
Written by Nikki Hills and Ella Garrud, Sussex Wildlife Trust