Barnacles, mussels, shore crabs, hermit crabs, shrimps, prawns, starfish, sand hoppers, whelks, razor shells can all be found in fairly sheltered, rocky seashores, whether they are gravelly or sandy. The underside of boulders, piers and pontoons can provide rich pickings.
Most importantly, seek local advice. Nothing beats asking the people who are in the know, some places might look ideal, but have strong currents.
Often rock pools closest to the beach are full of green seaweed called gut weed, which looks like intestines! These brackish pools (a mixture of seawater and freshwater) aren’t good for rockpooling.
Most rock pool creatures are marine animals and need full seawater. Pools closest to the sea edge are better – look at these first and move inland as the tide comes in.
When to go
The lower the tide, the more unusual things you will find in the lowest part of the shore. Try going during the equinox, or when the moon is full or new, when the tides are at their lowest.
Consult a tide table before you set off. These are readily available in local newsagents, petrol stations and shops; you can also use the app UK Tides, or visit websites such as Easytide.
Head out an hour or two before low tide, so that you have plenty of time to walk out with the tide and the most time at the lowest point before the tide comes in around you.
Tough, waterproof footwear is important, as rocks can be slippery and sharp. You’ll also need plenty of protective sun cream and sun hats, as the water can reflect the sun up at you.
Nets are generally discouraged as they can damage the ecosystems. It is better to collect animals with your hands so as not to hurt them. Pick up crabs by placing a finger and thumb on the top and bottom of the carapace.
Use clear buckets or Tupperware boxes, as these will allow you to view the creatures from below. If you find a starfish, for example, you will be able to see the mouth and suckers on the underside, and the children can see how it clings to the wall of the bucket.
Make sure you change water regularly and keep the creatures separate so that they don’t attack each other.
Rock Pooling Tips
You can start investigating a rock pool by seeing what’s swimming under the surface. You might see small fish such as a goby, butterfish or blenny. If you’re lucky you might spot a pipefish, which looks like a swimming shoelace and is related to the seahorse.
Prawns and shrimps are also common inhabitants of rock pools. They move very quickly and often swim backwards when you least expect it.
At the bottom of rock pools you might see a starfish or its skinny, spiny relative, the brittlestar. Sea hares (a type of sea slug) can often be found munching on seaweed. Their colour depends on the seaweed they feed on.
Look carefully and you might see a sea anemone waving its tentacles gently at you. You may also get a glimpse of a shell moving on legs – a hermit crab that’s made its home in an old periwinkle shell.
To get the best out of a rock pool you need to get your hands wet. Turning over seaweed can bring sea mats, sea squirts or sponges into view. You may also find the white swirls of tube worms such as keel worms.
Pick up rocks and you may see a green shore crab or porcelain crab scuttle out. Look out for edible crabs, which often look like pebbles, and squat lobsters. Beware of the red-eyed blue velvet swimming crab though, as it can nip.
Good rockpooling guides
A good pocket sized ID guide is handy to carry with you. Seashore (published by Collins Gem) is very clear and has great pictures but there are plenty of others available.
North Berwick Wildlife Watch have created this short video on how to rockpool in a safe and sustainable way.