How to spot wildlife on the beach – and how not to disturb it or hurt it

Common seals (Phoca vitulina) resting on shoreline rocks, Yell, Shetland Islands, Scotland.

If you’re lucky, you may see common seals (Phoca vitulina), but it’s a good idea to keep your distance.

James Warwick / Getty Images

Beaches aren’t just popular with humans – the rocks, dunes, cliffs, and seas of coastal environments are vital habitats for some of our most valuable living creatures. It can be easy to miss out on it amid all the swimming, sunbathing, and ice cream action, so here’s a list of the wildlife to look out for on the coast — and what you can do to enjoy yourself without hurting it. This article is an excerpt from the July Wildlife Newsletter – to be received new worldOur free wildlife newsletter is in your inbox every month, sign up here.

marine mammals

There’s nothing quite like seeing seals, whales, porpoises, or dolphins in the wild. Often the best way to appreciate them is to take a boat trip, but boats can run the risk of stressing these animals and interfering with their normal behavior. You can avoid this by checking the credentials of any boat tour provider – ask them what they do to reduce inconvenience, whether they work with any protection societies or if they are involved in something like WiSe . Scheme. As a rough rule of thumb, operators who manage small to medium boats and focus on science and conservation tend to be the best. Clothes that take a lot of trips a day, or boats that are too big, are likely to be annoying to animals.

Outside of boat trips, if you encounter marine animals in the water (eg while kayaking or paddle boarding) or on the beach (in the case of seals), it is a good idea to keep a distance of about 200 metres, so as not to scare them.

Rock Gathering/Tide Gathering

Exploring the water pools for marine life is fun for childhood and has surprises hidden for adults too. However, it undoubtedly bothers animals as well. In general, if you keep a few rules in mind, the benefits of getting to know these habitats can outweigh the harms of a temporary intervention in them.

When approaching a rocky puddle, do so quietly and leave your place so that it does not cast shadows, which may scare the animals away. Before you get your hands on it, take a moment to see what you can notice—seaweed, anemones, shrimp, and maybe crab. You’ll see more if you flip a rock to see what’s underneath, but make sure you put it back where it was, the sooner you do it the better.

If you want to take a closer look at anything, you can put it in a bucket or other container with some seawater in it, for a short period of time. Watch it – count its legs, note its color, see how it moves – then put it back on. Do not hunt more than one animal in a bucket at a time – some animals eat other animals.

Be careful when touching soft-bodied organisms, as they are sensitive and can easily infect you. Do not put your feet in a swimming pool or remove any seaweed, as this will disturb the ecosystem.

For more information on the joys of rock pooling, otherwise known as tidal pooling in the United States, read Joshua Hujigo’s novel about Going to the Beach with marine biologist and author Helen Skiles.

bird watching

The UK is of global importance as feeding and breeding grounds for seabirds and wading in the water. While many species spend the winter here, a variety comes to UK beaches in the spring and summer to breed or to refuel as they fly south from Scandinavia and the Arctic. Many species begin to leave from late July and throughout August, however, it is best to spot them in early summer.

To see birds like baby wingers, oyster hunters, avocets, little ringed plovers, and green sandpipers, look for a designated nature reserve with plenty of wetland habitat – salt marshes, mudflats and estuaries are all ideal wading spots.

To breed seabirds such as puffins, guillemots, razorbills and trees, you need to find an area of ​​the shelf that hosts breeding colonies of seabirds. There are many of these birds on islands, so a boat trip is often your best bet, especially if it will enable you to spot these wonderful birds at a respectable distance.

If you enjoy walking the coast with your dog, please look out for local signs and restricted areas, and respond to any requests to put your dog first. Many shorebirds nest on the ground and dogs can have a devastating effect on their efforts to raise their young.

2022 turns out to be a tragic year for seabirds. A deadly strain of avian influenza, which originated in farmed poultry, spreads among wild birds and kills them in large numbers, particularly in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Israel and India. If you see a sick or dead bird, do not touch it. If you come across about three dead birds (the exact number Depends on the type of birdIn the UK, report them to the government helpline: 03459 33 55 77. Reporting them will result in their removal, which can help prevent carcasses from spreading the virus to more birds.


From sand dunes to chalk cliffs, there is not a single coastal ecosystem. Each habitat has its own mix of plant species, and their flowers make for an especially memorable outing.

There are many rare specimens to look for, but it’s not uncommon to hear of people trampling plants in their efforts to find one in the flowers and take the perfect photo. To avoid this, please stick to the trails as much as you can, do not cross fences or other protective barriers, and recognize that coastal ecosystems can be very fragile.

before you go…

Binoculars will help you observe wildlife from a distance and a field guide or two will help you determine what to find.

The tides change rapidly, rip currents do not appear and slopes collapse. Look for safety guidelines before you go hunting for wildlife and pay attention to the signs. Tell someone when and where to go in case you get in trouble and don’t have a phone signal. Wear weather-appropriate clothing, sun cream and water, and limit your exposure to the midday sun (11am to 3pm in British summer). And on sweltering hot days, stay home.

Discarded plastic is now a common sight on beaches and family outings can include a great deal of single-use plastic. Consider bringing your lunch and refreshments in reusable containers. Save and reuse buckets, spades and other beach toys, including body boards – cheap toys can break easily and Thousands are eliminated every year.

If you eat seafood, it’s worth researching which ones are sustainable options in the area you’ll be visiting and look for sustainable seafood certifications in restaurants and cafes.


Finally – resist taking a souvenir. It is illegal to take pebbles from beaches in the UK and shelling removal may contribute to the degradation of the local ecosystem. It’s a cliché, but a photo is really the best way to remember your trip.

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