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Being Safe On the Shore

Seashores can be beautiful and great places to be and being a surveyor means you can go dog walking, paddling, flying a kite or having a picnic at the beach with the very useful and nationally important work of surveying your coast. But as part of the Seashore Survey Network, you must make sure you care for your safety and others. It is important to recognise that wild spaces can be unpredictable and planning ahead for every conceivable eventuality is important.

Below are some basic guidelines, which will help you to enjoy surveying. They  are not ranked in any order of importance as they are all important. Note putting ICE (Name) in contact list of mobile phone and noting 112 as an emergency number which works in poor signal areas is of great value.

1. Check the tide times before you go out, make sure you have enough time to explore without racing a tide coming back in.

2. Tell someone exactly where you are going and give an approximate time for when you will be back.

3. Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged and in a waterproof case or bag. Check someone has your mobile number before you go out.

4. It is always wise to take out a mini first aid kit, waterproof plasters are very handy.

5. Check the weather forecast just before you go out, the weather can change very quickly.

6. Wear the appropriate clothing as being hot, cold or wet can lead to serious conditions and will ruin your day. If cold, make sure your clothes are wind proof and rain proof. Wear layers in case you warm up walking, but can layer up again when stationary. If hot please use sunblock, do not forget the back of your neck. Wear a hat with a good brim.

7. Wear good waterproof boots or wellies, with good grips. Rocks and shingle on the shore can be very slippery.

8. Be careful of silts and muds, they can be deceptive and it is easy to get stuck in deep mud. This would be an undesirable situation with a rising tide.

9. Be visible on the shore, if you did get into difficulties you'd want to be seen so take along a high vis jacket or a bright torch.
10. Take care when turning rocks, apart from the need to turn rocks back for the wildlife that depends on them, there is always the risk of human rubbish being hidden there. Look out for sharp edges on glass or metal.

11.  You should be observing mostly, but do look out for occasions where close study may bring you in contact with animals with stings, such as some anemones and jellyfish. Beware of nips from crabs, squat lobsters and the odd bite from rag worms.

12.  On a hot day make sure you have drinking water with you.

13.  If you start to feel cold it is time to go home.



Taken from the first stage workshop by Mike Kendall.

  • Stick to your sampling plan so that you visit as many seashore habitats as you can:

High Shore ... Mid Shore ... Low Shore

Exposed Shore ... Sheltered Shore

In/Out of Water

Fresh Water ... Brackish ... Fully Saline

On or in: Rock ... Rock Pools ... Sand ... Mud ... Seaweed

Above or Beneath Boulders (always carefully turn the boulders back)


  • Record the presence and abundance of the species you are confident to identify. Either collect or photograph others. Make notes in the field with line drawings if helpful. A pencil and waterproof notebook are a good idea - no wet smudges.










Not seen


Codium spp









Laminaria hyperborea









Laminaria digitata









Saccharina latissima (was L. saccharina)









Himanthalia elongata


















Caution: You need to be as certain as you can that identifications are correct, not guessing or automatically jumping to wrong conclusions. Therefore, a checklist like this is not really recommended for inexperienced users. In the same way as casual picture matching can lead to lazily achieved misidentifications, although it might jog the memory, an over used checklist can take precedence over careful, accurate diagnosis.



Most species are rare and/or too small to be found and ecognised at a glance, indeed the majority are microscopic. Therefore, we find and identify only a fraction of what might be present.

However, one may sum up biota of the rocky seashore by reference to < 20 easily identified animals and plants. These are species we expect most people will quite rapidly find easy to identify. Please scroll to the bottom of the page to see the top 20 checklist.

All of these 20 species are naked-eye visible or larger, and these are the ones that can be concentrated on with reasonable confidence after a stage one workshop.

Most surveyors, even the 'experts', can identify with certainty only up to 50% of the species encountered in the field.

Some species may be very rare or in a group where a verifier may have limited experience. If so, a call for help among the marine science community can be made.

Some species need to be taken to the lab because they are too small to identify in the field or require confirmation with reference to microscopical features. If they are likely to 'go off' before they are attended to, specimens may be presenved in alcohol. 40% ethanol is conventional, but colourless gin, vodka or even ouzo (once used on Crete for crabs!) will do the job in an emergency.

Caution: Only a small proportion of species can be identified with total certainty from general photographs. Even so, take photos and try to get clear photographic or drawn images of features you judge will be likely to assure identification.

There are thousands of species on the UK seashore and there is not space for all of them in a book that sells for <£10; for instance the HSBP's own User-Friendly Seashore Guide or the Collins guide British Coastal Wildlife (both beginner/intermediate level). Therefore, most popular field guides contain only the common species and identification of rare or tricky ones will require reference to a specialist guide.

Recommended specialist books for advanced survey work are:

Handbook of the Marine Fauna of North-West Europe, by Hayward and Ryland (£45 and worth every penny - advanced level)
Seasearch guide to Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland (£16 - intermediate/advanced level)
Linnaean Society Synopses of the British Fauna (advanced level)
A Student's Guide to the Seashore, by Fish & Fish (£30-35 - intermediate/advanced level)

For more detailed keys and guides please go to the page Online Academic Research Sites and Papers


Species Names

All species have a scientific name that is often a quite useful abbreviated description. Some scientific names honour a person, telling us nothing about the organism at all (which is not so helpful).


Fucus serratus, the saw or serrated wrack (a brown seaweed)
Mytilus edulis, the common or blue mussel (a bivalve mollusc)
Mesophyllum (Lithophyllum) lichenoides, pink plates (a red seaweed).

Fucus is from the Greek ‘Phykos’ for seaweed and tells you what type of organism it is.
serratus comes from the Latin for saw ‘Serrula’, and describes a noticeable feature of the species – its toothed frond margins – and differentiates it from its close relatives, such as Fucus vesiculosus (seaweed with bladders), Fucus sprialis (seaweed with twisted fronds), Fucus distichus (two-branched seaweed) etc.

Mytilus is Greek for the sea mussel ‘Mytilos’.
Edulis is Latin meaning edible (which mussels surely are, but it’s not descriptive).

Mesophyllum (Lithophyllum) Greek meaning middle-leaf. The old name is more descriptive, meaning rock-leaf. This seaweed grows attached to rock and, being calcified, feels a bit rocklike.
lichenoides means looking like a lichen (it does), from the Greek.

To find out more about biological names refer to Edmund Jaeger’s fascinating A Source-Book of Biological Names and Terms. (out of print, but available in libraries and 2nd hand)

Of course, rare species and those never found their way into folklore or practical use tend not to have English or Gaelic names.




Can be used for colonial and crust forming species as well as individual animals/plants. For individuals it is scaled by body size.

It is an estimate of how much surface area is covered by any one species. This varies with the group being surveyed, please see table below.

Once had category E (extremely abundant)

Category S is not used by many workers

MarClim project uses only ACFOR

SACFOR TAKES PRACTICE and it is best to have a few goes with some other surveyors first and compare notes. You will soon get into the way it works. It does take practice.

If you are going to have to count all the animals you may as well record the counts themselves for an area then use ACFOR, which is always preferable, however ACFOR is useful where densities are very high.








>1/ cm2

>10/ 0.1m2

>5-9/ 0.1m2







100-299 0.01m2

5-9/ 0.1m2

1-4/ 0.1m2




1-4/ 0.1m2











Present but<1m2

Scattered plants but clear patches


Present but <1m2

Present but<1m2


Present but widely distributed

The top twenty species list

Pelvetia canaliculata

Channelled wrack


Ecology and identification

Upper shore alga often forming a clear zone on more sheltered shores

Evenly forked fronds up to 10 cm long that are rolled to give a channel no one side

Similar species

Found slightly higher on the shore than Fucus spiralis.

Fronds in F. spiralis are flat and twisted

Fucus spiralis

Spiral Wrack




Ecology and identification

Upper shore alga often forming a clear zone below Pelvetia on more sheltered shores

Fronds in F. spiralis are flat and twisted and up to 20cm long. NO bladders. [Caution: jelly-filled receptacles are not bladders]

Similar species

Fucus vesiculosus which has distinctive gas-filled bladders


Ascophyllum nodosum


Egg or Knotted Wrack

Ecology and identification

Most characteristic mid shore alga on sheltered shores

Leathery fronds up to a metre long, no mid-rib and single egg-shaped air-bladders

Similar species

Fucus vesiculosus which has paired circular air bladders


Fucus vesiculosus

Bladder Wrack

Ecology and identification

The characteristic alga of the mid-shore in moderate exposure.

The fronds have a prominent mid-rib and paired air bladders

Similar species

See F. spiralis and A. nodosum above

Fucus serratus

Serrated Wrack.

Ecology and identification

Can be abundant in the low and lower mid-shore.

Fronds have a serrated edge.

Similar species

Other Fucus species. See above

Laminaria digitata

Oar weed or Tangle


Ecology and identification.

This is the commonest of the kelps and can dominate around low water. Each plant may reach 1.5m long.

The stem has an oval cross section that causes the plant to droop over at low water

Similar species

Laminaria hyperborea, the forest kelp which has a round cross section to the stem and stands erect at low tide.

Ulva intestinalis

Gut Weed


Ecology and identification.

There are many species of Ulva that are difficult to separate from each other.

This species has a tubular, inflated frond and is unbranched.

Similar species

Other Ulva species. Identify with care or refer to all simply as Ulva.

Actinia equina

Beadlet Anemone


Ecology and identification

On rocks in the middle and lower shore.

Normally found with tentacles retracted and the appearance of a blob of dark red jelly. Colour can vary and can be obscured by shell or stones attached to the column.

Similar species

Actinia fragacea; similar in ground colour but the column is covered by green spots


Patella vulgata

Common Limpet



Ecology and identification

The common limpet of the middle to low shore. Animals flatter low down the beach.

Inside of shell grey/green: Foot olive green to grey: Tentacles clear.

Similar species

Patella ulyssiponensis which is found in rock pools and at the lowest shore levels and has a white surface inside the shell.




Patella ulyssiponensis

China Limpet



Ecology and identification

Found in rock pools and at the lowest shore levels. May be covered by algae.

Inside of shell white; foot orange and tentacles white.

Similar species

Patella vulgata See above.


Littorina littorea

Common Periwinkle



Ecology and identification

A large black to brown winkle living in the mid-shore.

Usually has fine black stripes perpendicular to lip of the shell. Shell lip meets shell at acute angle.

Similar species

Littorina saxatilis

No black lines shell lip meets shell almost square.

Littorina saxatilis

Rough Periwinkle

Ecology and identification

Small to medium sized snail with sharp spire often abundant in upper shore. Shell lip meets shell almost square.



Nucella lapillus

Dog Whelk

Ecology and identification

The main predator of barnacles & mussels on most rocky shores.

Usually white although other colours common. There is a deep notch at the front of the shell

Similar species


There are other, usually smaller relatives living low on the shore.

The edible whelk is far larger and is seldom seen alive on the shore.



Gibbula umbilicalis

Flat Topshell



Ecology and identification

This is an important grazer on the mid- and lower part of moderately exposed shores on the western coast and part of the north coast.

The flat based shell has bands of purple on a greenish background

Similar species

Gibbula cineraria

See below.


Gibbula cineraria

Grey Topshell



Ecology and identification

Usually lives lower on the shore than G. umbilicalis in moderately exposure and is found in wet places/under rocks rather than on open rock.

Similar species

Gibbula umbilicalis.

Shell is grey and the marking are finer in G. cineraria.

Mytilus edulis

Common Mussel



Ecology and identification

In mid to low shore on rock.

Distinctive dark blue shell with a pointed tip. In shelter or in in nutrient rich water may reach 7 cm or more, but may be less then 1cm on exposed nutrient poor shores.

Similar species

None common intertidally in the Highlands.

The horse mussel, Modiolus may be found low in the shore and this has a more rounded tip to the shell.

A further small species of mussel, Musculus may be found in the holdfast of kelps.


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