Why keep 100 year old seaweed? 

Plants form part of the immense natural history collections at the Booth Museum of Natural History, included in these are *seaweeds – some of which are over 100 years old!

These specimens were carefully dried, identified and mounted by the Victorian women who collected them – often forming beautiful delicate displays or arranged in beautiful bound books.

But why keep 100 year old seaweed? It can’t just be because they are beautiful, can it?…Dr Gerald Legg, former Curator of the Booth Museum of Natural History reveals all…

Algae collected by Mary Merrifield from the Booth Museum collections

Learn from the past to protect our future 

One important value of such collections is to be able to see what was found in the past compared with what is found now. What has been lost and what has been gained. The collections like those of Mary Merrifield, Mrs Leopold Grey and Dr Omerod in the Booth collections contain incredibly detailed notes showing exactly where they were found and the date they were collected.

Data, data, data!

Collecting data of seaweeds over the last century and in more recent decades has helped to provide key information for conservation. In Sussex, data collection like this is helping  towards the restoration of a vital marine habitat that was hidden to most people beneath the waves…

Kelp Forests

In the not distant past **kelps were common along the shore and off the coast of Sussex. Kelp forests can provide important nurseries for fish, can help combat climate change and are a crucial habitat for a host of species.

However, with trawling, dredging and the storm of 1986 much of the dense ‘forests’ have been lost. You no longer get masses of seaweeds washed up on Worthing beach causing a stink and making a useful fertiliser to be collected by farmers and the like…

Sussex Kelp Forest cover 1980

Bigwave 18 – Kelp densities in the 80s, Photo credit Andy Jackson

Sussex Kelp Forest cover 2019

Bigwave 19 – Kelp densities now, photo credit Andy Jackson

What it’s like now 

But not all is lost…

Take Action!

Find out how local conservationists and activists are  working together to bring the kelp back and allow the forests to regenerate in our Take Action section.


I’d like to finish this blog with a wonderful poem on Kelp by Jeffery Yang

Kelp by Jeffrey Yang

How easy it is to lose oneself

in a kelp forest. Between

canopy leaves, sunlight filters thru

the water surface; nutrients

bring life where there’d other-

wise be barren sea; a vast eco-

system breathes. Each

being being

being’s link.

Dr Gerald Legg Diving at Selsey Bill

Dr Gerald Legg, former Curator of the Booth Museum of Natural History 




Additional information

*Kelps include: Oar Weed Laminaria digitata, forest Kelp Laminaria hypoborea, Golden Kelp Laminaria ochroleuca, Sugar Kelp Saccharina latissimi, Furbellows Sacchorhiza polyschides and the alien Wakame Undaria pinnatifida.



Kitchen ocean science

It’s not just plastics that are a threat to our  Oceans…

As part of the water cycle, our oceans regulate the amount of carbon in our atmosphere. You might have heard forests referred to as ‘the lungs of the earth’ (and they are very important), but the oceans store 16 times more carbon than terrestrial ecosystems, around 30% of carbon dioxide from human activity.

If too much carbon dioxide is stored in the ocean we see something called ocean acidification. But what is ocean acidification?  And how does it affect our oceans?

Here, we will discover the science behind ocean acidification and how you can  create an easy, and very cool, experiment at home turning red cabbage…

 From this…

To this!



The Science

The Science
What is ocean acidification?  Ocean acidification reduces the amount of carbonate in the sea, affecting organisms whose bodies are made ...
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The Experiment

The Experiment
Making a Ocean acidification (pH) indicator This experiment uses the natural properties of the humble red cabbage as a magic ...
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Find out more in Climate Conversations  a Royal Pavilion & Museums blog series on Climate Change and what we can do about it.







Written by Juliet Maxted, Zoology graduate & Booth Museum volunteer 

Diatoms: Hidden Climate Heroes

Written by Amy Charlton, Volunteer, Booth Museum of Natural History

Diatoms are single-celled microscopic algae found in marine and freshwater environments worldwide. From puddles to oceans, these tiny organisms play a fundamental part in regulating the earth’s climate.

Like plants, diatoms photosynthesise, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releasing oxygen. They do this on a massive scale, performing an estimated 20% of the earth’s entire photosynthetic carbon dioxide fixation – that’s equivalent to all the rainforests combined!

Discovering Diatoms

Diatoms are tiny – usually less than the width of a human hair – and the invention of the microscope enabled them to be seen for the first time.

In 1703, someone identified only as ‘Mr. C’ wrote to the Royal Society describing a curious organism they had seen under their microscope. This is generally accepted to be one of the first documented diatom discoveries.

Mr. C wrote of:

rectangular oblongs and exact squares, which were joyn’d together… all of the same size… made up of two parallelograms joyn’d longwise… the texture of every one is nearly the same...” (Philosophical Transactions Vol. 23)  https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstl.1702.0065

We now know that Mr. C was probably describing the Tabellaria diatom, whose cuboid cells form zig-zag colonies joined together by mucus pads. Throughout the century, many more diatom species were identified under the microscope.

In the Victorian era, diatom arrangements became fashionable as miniature curiosities. Arranged in patterns on slides, these tiny artworks would be shown under the microscope at social gatherings. Some great examples can be seen here

The Diatomist from Matthew Killip on Vimeo.

Perfect Proxies

Paleoclimatology – the study of past climates – is crucial to understanding what is happening, and what will happen, to our climate as it warms. Temperature records date back around 150 years, but prehistoric climate conditions can be reconstructed using climate proxies. These proxies can be natural archives such as tree rings, corals, ice cores and marine sediments.

Sediment Superstars

Due to their abundance and robust structures, diatoms make great climate proxies. When diatoms die, their tough silica frustules fall to the sea floor. Here, they lock away carbon and form sediment in layers, providing a timeline of changes in ocean conditions.

Diatoms are particularly useful to look at in sediment because of how they react to their surroundings. They are sensitive to change in their environment and the chemistry of their frustules reflects the water in which they were formed. Different species also have different morphological adaptations to allow them to survive in particular conditions. The absence or abundance of a species can therefore indicate and locate a range of conditions such as surface temperature, acidity, salinity and atmospheric carbon dioxide and oxygen levels.

Access to long-term data such as this enables patterns in natural climate cycles to be identified, with which we can compare more recent anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change. This can provide critical evidence that human activity is contributing to our changing climate, and predictions can be made about what might happen to our climate – and us – if we do not intervene.

Brilliant Bioindicators

Diatoms can also provide us with valuable insight into what is happening within our aquatic ecosystems right now. They respond rapidly to changes in their environment, and species will reproduce or decline in particular circumstances. In optimal conditions, some species can grow into enormous colonies, or ‘blooms’, that are so large they can even be seen from space!


Help our Kelp!

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.

The implementation of this byelaw will alleviate the pressure from this type of fishing on the habitat used by the kelp, giving it some breathing space to regenerate.

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.

Take Action!

Click here to help Sussex kelp forests.  Writing to your local MP is one of the most effective actions you can take.

Written by Nikki Hills and Ella Garrud, Sussex Wildlife Trust

Sussex wildlife trust logo, courtesy of Sussex Wildlife Trust.jpg

Coastal birds

The Sussex coastline has some great spots for coastal bird-watching.  From Kingfishers to Kittiwakes, you will find an abundance of beautiful coastal bird life right on your doorstep. Lynn Beun from the RSPB Brighton & District Local Group has chosen her top six.

There’s no such thing as a seagull!

Lynn Beun, Leader, RSPB Brighton & District Local Group

“There’s no such thing as a seagull”. I was taught this when I started birdwatching. What! you say? Yes, there are different types of gulls and they have different names. I will tell you about three gulls and two of my other favourite coastal birds that you can spot in Sussex. This is just my personal selection, which ones would you choose?

No. 1 Herring Gull

No. 1 Herring Gull
In the Number One spot it has to be – the Herring Gull! I always think they have a mean ...
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No. 2 Kittiwake

No. 2 Kittiwake
If Herring gulls have a mean glint in their eye, I think that the little kittiwake looks sweet and gentle ...
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No. 3 Cormorant

No. 3 Cormorant
Want to see a prehistoric looking bird? I think you should look no further than the cormorant! Cormorants have an ...
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No. 4 Black Headed Gull

No. 4 Black Headed Gull
Black headed gulls are handsome birds with – not black heads in fact but a dark brown hood. Take a ...
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No. 5 Oystercatcher

No. 5 Oystercatcher
Another colourful bird with a bright red beak and red legs is the Oystercatcher. You may see little groups of ...
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No. 6 Turnstone

No. 6 Turnstone
Close to Brighton Marina or in Shoreham you may see the little aptly named Turnstone, running along the water’s edge ...
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Seen any exciting coastal bird sightings in Sussex? Have you got any tips on bird-spotting you would like to share? Let us know in the comments box below.

Hotspots for Coastal Birds

Use our map below to discover hotspots in our area and some of the key species to look out for.

Spotlight on…

Below are our latest articles exploring birds in Brighton in further detail. This week Kerrie Curzon has written an article on why the Kittiwake colony at Splash Point is thriving and take a walk along the Brighton coastline with Lynn Beun from the RSPB Brighton & District Local group.

Kittiwakes at Seaford Head in a changing climate

Kittiwakes at Seaford Head in a changing climate

Edward Thomas Booth notes in his catalogue from June, 1867 that kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) are common. They are currently the ...
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Spotting birds along Brighton's seashore

Spotting birds along Brighton’s seashore

Written by Lynn Beun, Leader, RSPB Brighton & District Local Group Living in this area we are very lucky, and ...
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Kittiwakes at Seaford Head in a changing climate

Edward Thomas Booth notes in his catalogue from June, 1867 that kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) are common. They are currently the most numerous gull species in the UK; however, they are now in serious decline. Since 2000 black-legged kittiwake numbers have declined by more than half.

Black-legged kittiwake in Rørvik, Norway, by Becky Matsubara from El Sobrante, California CC BY 2.0

Booth’s entry about the summer kittiwake diorama discusses the Sea-Bird Preservation Act that protected the birds. In Booth’s opinion:

‘the senseless slaughter that took place round their breeding-stations every summer having been allowed to continue too long without interference.’

The Sea Bird Preservation Act of 1869 was the first in the country to protect birds. It prevented people from killing seabirds and collecting their eggs from April to August so that they could breed. The main motivation for this was not for the protection of the birds themselves, but to aid sailors who relied on healthy seabird populations to find land in foggy conditions.

Illustration of Kittiwakes, female and young, by Edward Neale from Rough Notes on birds in the British Islands by Edward Thomas Booth.

As a collector of birds, Booth’s following sentence contains no sense of irony at his killing of these birds: ‘The specimens in this case were obtained at the Bass Rock in June, 1867.’ The winter kittiwake diorama contains adults in winter plumage and juveniles that were ‘shot a few miles off Brighton, in the winter of 1870.’

The black-legged kittiwakes joined the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species in 2018. Current threats to kittiwakes are associated with their prey, sand-eels and herring which are in decline, due to the effects of climate change. This impacts the prey the sand-eels feed on and the breeding season of the herring, which no longer coincides with the kittiwake breeding season. This results in lower breeding success for the kittiwakes.

Kittiwakes at Seaford Head copyright Andy Hay, courtesy of RSPB Brighton & District Local Group

Despite the downward trend of many populations of kittiwakes, the colony at Seaford Head in Sussex continues to thrive. Seaford Head to Beachy Head is designated as an area of Special Scientific Interest and Seaford Head Nature Reserve is part managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust and the National Trust. There are over 1000 nests in the kittiwake colony. No one knows exactly why they are doing better than other colonies around the UK. A possible explanation is that prey species are also faring better in the South East. However, this may change as sea temperatures are expected to rise faster along the south coast bringing more unpredictable changes for the kittiwakes and their associated marine ecosystem.

Written by Kerrie Curzon, Collections Assistant, The Booth Museum of Natural History 

Marine fossils

Sussex covered by an ancient sea

Did you know that 100 million years ago the whole of the UK was covered by a warm ocean? Only the tops of the Scottish mountains would have poked above sea-level.

How do we know this? What lived in this warm shallow sea covering Sussex? How does it compare to now? We can use the Booth Museum’s important collection of fossils from the Cretaceous period to find out more.

Marine creatures

Marine creatures
Explore our fossils to see what animals lived in our seas around 100 million years ...
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Sussex: an ancient sea bed

Sussex: an ancient sea bed
How do we know that Sussex was covered by a warm sea? The answer lies ...
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Sussex: an ancient sea bed

A panoramic view of all seven sisters from the Beachy Head cliffs near Birling Gap, looking back towards the River Cuckmere and Seaford Head in the background. By Diliff – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

How do we know that Sussex was covered by a warm sea? The answer lies in the familiar white cliffs of the South Coast – Beachy Head, The Seven Sisters and Dover. These cliffs are all made of a rather special rock. Chalk.

But what is chalk?

When you hold a small piece of chalk in your hand from a walk along the South Downs, you are holding the remains of millions upon millions of microscopic marine plants called algae.

Emiliania huxleyi – single-celled marine phytoplankton that produce calcium carbonate scales (coccoliths). A scanning electron micrograph of a single coccolithophore cell. Alison R. Taylor (University of North Carolina Wilmington Microscopy Facility) CC BY 2.5

These marine plants thrived a in a warm sea that was 200 to 300 metres deep and covered the whole of the South Downs and most of the UK. The only part of the UK you would have been able to see 100 millions years ago would have been the highest peaks of the Scottish mountain range.  

The cell walls of these plants were strengthened with a skeleton made of hard plates of calcium carbonate which, after the death of the algae, slowly sank and built up on the sea floor. Layers upon layers of these skeletons built up to form what is now the South Downs and the famous chalk cliffs.  

Discover the animals that lived in the seas 100 million years ago in our fossil galleries. 

Unique chalk habitats 

The chalk has created rare habitats including chalk reefs which are home to an abundance of wildlife.T he Beachy Head West Marine Conservation Zone, which runs from Brighton Marina to Beachy Head, is a wonderful chalk reef. It is home to threatened species including blue mussel beds and short-snouted seahorses.  Read our Rockpooling guide to find out more about what you can spot in Beachy Head West rockpools.

chalk reef film from Sussex Wildlife Trust on Vimeo.