Save the Ocean Jewelry UK Rocky Shores

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Save the Ocean Jewelry UK Rocky Shores

Rocky shores, UK

coastline cornwall
Rocky Coast Cornwall


The UK’s expansive coastline, which is well over 6,000 kilometres long, varies dramatically and presents a number of different rocky habitats, ranging from calm, sheltered coves and rocky beaches to tall, imposing cliffs. Within each of these rocky habitats the conditions are highly dynamic, due to the ever-changing tides  as well as additional environmental factors such as temperature and wind Rocky shores are formed when waves erode softer rocks, leaving harder rocks exposed 


Rocky shores are rich in marine biodiversity, with an impressive range of species occupying the different marine zones down the shore. As a fully marine environment, the sublittoral zone can sustain a wide variety of species. Many of the species inhabiting the intertidal zone are specifically adapted to be able to live both in and out of the sea, and therefore cannot be found elsewhere .

Biodiversity generally decreases further away from the sea, with only a few species of lichen being able to survive on rocks in the splash zone. Marine plant material deposited in strandlines, however, provides important habitat for small invertebrates and birds further away from the sea.


Although rarely seen and often considered a freshwater species, the common otter (Lutra lutra) forages for fish on rocky coasts in the UK . Both of the UK’s seal species, the common seal (Phoca vitulina) and the grey seal (Halichoerus grypus), are also found on rocky shores, diving for fish in the sea or basking, mating or breeding on land . Further out to sea, cetaceans such as the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) and even orca (Orcinus orca) also reside .


Rocky shores provide food for a variety of different native and migratory birds including gulls, waders, terns, eiders and kittiwakes . Oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) prowl the rocky shores looking for limpets, crabs and mussels. Cliff shorelines are used as rest stops and breeding grounds for bird species that dive for fish out at sea, such as the puffin (Fratercula arctica) 


Lichens such as Caloplaca aractina and golden hair lichen (Teloschistes flavicans) are found on some of the most inhospitable parts of the rocky shore .


Rocky shores are home to several species of fish, including lumpsuckers, butterfish and goby . The giant goby (Gobius cobitis) can be found in rock pools on the western part of England’s southern coast .


Rocky shores support a vast number of marine invertebrate species, including crustaceans such as the edible crab (Cancer pagurus)  and the common prawn (Palaemon serratus) , both of which can be found in rock pools across the UK . Anemones, starfish, sea urchins and sea slugs such as the sea lemon (Archidoris pseudoargus) can also be found all over rocky shores .

In addition to this, the strandlines of marine vegetation provide food and habitat for a large number of terrestrial invertebrate species


Rocky shores are able to sustain a large collection of seaweeds and kelps which are not able to anchor themselves in more sandy habitats . Bladder wrack (Fucus vesiculosus) is one of the more recognisable seaweed species, and is a common sight along the coast . Further inland, terrestrial plants such as rock sea-lavenders (Limonium spp.) and sea beet (Beta vulgaris) are able to thrive in a highly saline environment .

Explore the biodiversity of UK rocky shores:


Rocky shores are vulnerable to various types of pollution, including oil pollution which mainly comes from waste rather than oil spills. Oil smothers species living on rocks near the shore and can also poison rock pools. Toxic chemicals from boats, as well as leached pesticides and herbicides, can also have a significant negative impact on marine species  Widespread agricultural use of fertilizers can cause leaching of nutrients into seawater, causing algal blooms, which can harm other species .

Litter washed up from the sea or dropped directly on the shore can also have an adverse effect on marine species , with animals becoming entangled in, or even ingesting, items of rubbish. Turtles and seabirds are frequently found to have plastic in their stomachs when examined. Sadly, plastic rubbish on beaches has increased by 135 percent since 1994. Untreated sewage can also upset the balance of the marine ecosystem, with toxins accumulating in shellfish and other animals .

Development of coastal areas for storm defense or recreation can have a mixed effect on marine life, as although habitat destruction is likely, development may also allow colonization of a new habitat . Recreational use of shores (including activities such as walking, driving vehicles and burning driftwood) can also disturb marine life . Agriculture close to shores may introduce new plant species, which can potentially displace existing ones, while grazing animals such as cattle can adversely affect the native plant species .

The predicted rise in sea levels due to climate change could eliminate a large amount of coastal habitat . Beaches naturally move inland with a long term rise in sea levels, but human building development, along with a lack of sediment, prevent this from happening, causing ‘coastal squeezing’ where the width of the coast actually decreases .


There are several conservation initiatives that aim to preserve the British coast. Natural England have designated 1,057 kilometres of the English coastline as ‘Heritage Coast’, meaning that marine species in these areas are protected  Marine Protected Areas and Marine Conservation Zones are also the responsibility of Natural England and such areas play an important role in the conservation of the sea and coastline.

Some organisations take a more active role in marine conservation. Surfers Against Sewage organize regular beach cleans with local volunteers  and the Marine Conservation Society's (MCS) Beachwatch initiative allows local communities to get involved in beach cleans as well as wildlife surveys 

Get involved

The Marine Conservation Society's Beachwatch initiative is a great way to help protect your local coastline. Through this scheme you can take part in beach cleans and wildlife surveys  Surfers Against Sewage also organize many beach cleans that volunteers can take part in  Although hand-cleaning beaches is more time-consuming than mechanical cleaning, it is more environmentally friendly as it does not remove the top layer of rocks, and therefore leaves habitats intact 

The MCS’s Good Beach Guide recommends beaches in the UK with the best water quality and lowest water pollution levels. The idea behind this scheme is to encourage local authorities, water companies and businesses to address any marine pollution issues . Of course, the public also has a part to play in keeping Britain’s beaches clean. Make sure that you do not leave any litter when visiting beaches and cliffs, and recycle rubbish wherever possible. At home we should all aim to use less water and use environmentally friendly cleaning products, as in doing so we can minimize harmful sewage spills on our coasts (.

Visit a UK rocky shore

You are never that far away from the coast in the UK. With such a wide array of beautiful rocky beaches and cliffs waiting to be explored.