Only a matter of minutes into my first rockpooling adventure since childhood, I had already netted a 2cm long common prawn. Admittedly, I nearly threw it back along with the large helping of assorted seaweed in my net, but I was delighted.
My elation was short-lived, however. Just as I was about to show off with pride the tiny, semi-transparent crustacean to my fellow rockpoolers, one of them, nine-year-old Ben, thrust his plastic tub under my nose. “Look what I found,” he announced triumphantly. The creature swimming around Ben’s tub was also a common prawn, but this one measured an impressive 11cm. Spectacularly trumped, I surreptitiously tipped my miniscule prawn back into the water and continued on my way.
Inspired by childhood memories of spending summer hours delving into rockpools, I had joined an organised rockpool ramble on the beach at Combe Martin, a pretty village on the coast. Run by Coastwise North Devon members and volunteers, it was timed to coincide with the lowest tide to maximise our chances of gaining an insight into the colourful array of plants and animals living on the rocky shoreline.
After gathering at Combe Martin Museum for brief introductions, we divided into two groups consisting of a mixture of newbies such as myself and experienced amateurs.
Under sunny blue skies, my group, led by the infectiously enthusiastic and knowledgeable Paula Ferris, trekked down to the beach armed with our essential kit: plastic tub, net and laminated rockpool guide (highly recommended for any keen rockpooler).
Keep your eyes peeled
Combe Martin has a small, narrow beach with steep-sided cliffs and limited dry sand for spreading towels and staking windbreaks. But at low tide it is a perfect location for rockpooling, with the cliffs offering shelter and the receding tide exposing numerous pools.
Easing us in, Paula began by pointing out some familiar species, such as barnacles, mussels, limpets (did you know they return to the same place each low tide?) and sea snails, before encouraging us to look further down seeking the more unusual creatures lurking at the lowest tide point.
After my slow start, it wasn’t long before I was ticking off animals on my trusty laminated guide: shore crabs (one carrying a sack of eggs); large alien-like green and pink snakelocks anemone; small red beadlet anemones; and a cluster of red threads protruding above the sand indicating a marine worm hiding beneath.
After a few near watery disasters – there’s certainly a skill to negotiating seaweed-covered rocks while holding a net in one hand and a plastic tub full of water in the other – I tentatively made my way to the lowest tide point to join a huddle of excited rockpoolers. Imagining the source of their excitement to be an enormous fish or rare crab, I was slightly baffled to be shown a single piece of kelp with a small wound measuring around 1.5cm. But with the help of a magnifying glass, I could see a beautiful blue-rayed limpet buried deep within.
Now on my beach trips I can’t wait to join in with the kids, searching for the natural treasures hidden among every clump, rock and pool.