Somerset Wildlife Trust

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Discover the Coast

Here's what amazing wildlife you can find along Somerset's coast throughout the year  

Untitled design (13)Strawberry Anemone

Strawberry anemones live attached to rocks on the lower shore all around the coast of the UK. They are bright red in colour, covered in small green spots - which makes them look a lot like a strawberry, especially when their tentacles are retracted at low tide. They have a stout column (body) which attaches to the rock and short, thick stinging tentacles that they use to catch their prey. Strawberry Anemones are highly territorial. They have a ring of beads beneath their tentacles called acrorhagi that are packed full of stinging cells. They use these beads to fight off other anemones and defend their preferred patch.

When to see: January to December

 


Untitled design (16)Snakelock Anemone

They have a squat brownish body and the long, wavy, snake-like tentacles that give them their name. These tentacles are normally bright green with purple tips and are home to a kind of algae which produces energy from sunlight. As such snakelocks anemones live in the sunniest spots on the shore. In addition to the energy captured from the photosynthetic algae, they use their long stinging tentacles to capture prey such as prawns, small fish and sea snails. Found around the west of the UK and in the English Channel. Snakelocks Anemone cells contain a special protein that makes them glow fluorescent green under ultraviolet light!

When to see: January to December

 


Untitled design (17)Beadlet Anemone

Beadlet Anemones live attached to rocks all around the coast of the UK. They can be found in rock pools and on rocky overhangs around the low tide mark. The Beadlet Anemone has a squat body with thick short tentacles which are retracted when disturbed or when exposed by the falling tide. Most Beadlet Anemones are a dark red colour, but they can also be green or orange. The base of the body acts like a sucker, holding them onto the rock, though they can move (albeit very slowly!) if they need to. They are predators and use their stinging tentacles to catch passing prey, such as shrimps, crabs or even small fish. 

When to see: January to December

 


Untitled design (22)Honeycomb Worm

The Honeycomb Worm is a reef-building worm. Each worm builds itself a protective tube from sand and shell fragments, which together form a reef that looks like honeycomb. Each little hole is like a worm apartment and is where the worm lives and feeds. The They live mainly on the shoreline and will build hummock-shaped reefs on most hard surfaces such as rocks and coastal defence structures. They need this hard surface and sand to build their tubes - so they are only found in places where both are plentiful. Honeycomb Worm reefs provide a habitat for other species, with up to 38 different species recorded on a well-established reef. 

When to see: January to December

 


Untitled design (30)Sea Lemon

The Sea Lemon is a type of sea slug found in UK seas down to 300m and occasionally under boulders in rockpools on the low shore. They are often lemon-yellow in colour, but can be green, white or brown. Their body is covered in warty lumps and their markings are often blotchy. They have a ring of feathery gills near their rear end that they use to breathe. The Sea Lemon feeds on sponges, mainly the Breadcrumb Sponge, and their entire life cycle last only a single year. Juveniles appear in the late summer and grow into adults throughout autumn and winter. They then mate and spawn in spring before dying. 

When to see: January to December

 


Untitled design (31)Sea Hare

The Sea Hare is a marine snail, found in shallow water and occasionally in rockpools on the low shore. They feed on seaweed and depending on the colour they choose to eat, that defines their own colour. Sea Hares have an internal shell, which is around 4cm long and transparent. Like sea slugs, the Sea Hare is a hermaphrodite and they sometimes mate in chains, with an individual acting as both male and female. They lay eggs in long pink threads, which are deposited on seaweed and look a bit like pink spaghetti. Sea Hares reach 7-20cm in length. Normally a reddish-maroon colour, they can also be green or brown. 

When to see: January to December

 


BladderwortBladder Wrack

Probably the seaweed most associated with the seashore, Bladder Wrack is a common wrack seaweed which grows between the high and low water marks on rocky shores. Bladder Wrack has round air bladders which allow the seaweed to float upright underwater, this helps them exhange gases and absorb nutrients when submerged. It forms dense beds on the mid shore, often together with Egg Wrack. It provides a shelter for many creatures and is a food source for others, including the Flat Periwinkle. They are common on rocky shores all around our coasts.

When to see: January to December

 


Untitled design (18)Sea Lettuce

Sea Lettuce is a common seaweed, found attached to rocks and other surfaces using a small holdfast or living in rockpools if it has become detatched. The detatched fronds continue to grow and can create large floating colonies. The ruffled fronds are unique - bright green and translucent, being only 2 cells thick. It is this ruffling that gives it the name sea lettuce - as it looks a bit like a lettuce leaf! (The word lactuca in its scientific name means lettuce). Sea Lettuce is sometimes eaten as 'Green Laver' but 'Purple Laver' (Porphyra umbilicalis) is much preferred. Both are used to make laver bread - a Welsh speciality - and are also used to complement rice in Japanese and Korean cooking. Found on all UK coasts.

When to see: January to December


Hermit CrabHermit Crab

Hermit crabs live inside empty Sea Snail shells, particularly those of whelks and periwinkles. They can be found on rocky shores and down to depths of 150m. Hermit Crabs are opportunistic scavengers, feeding on anything they can find. They have tough pincers but a soft body which they coil up inside their borrowed shell, using their hooked tail to help them to grip on. As they grow, hermit crabs move into ever larger shells. When two hermit crabs meet, one may attempt to steal the other's shell by forcibly evicting the current owner. Found around all UK coasts.

When to see: January to December

 


Untitled design (23)Razor Shell

Razor Shells or Razor Clams are very recognisable, with their long, narrow clam shells. They are a burrowing species and live buried in the sand around the low tide mark and on the seabed out to around 60m deep. They dig themselves into the sand using their strong muscular "foot". Razor Clams filter feed on plankton and detritus and quite often, the 2 small siphons are all that is visible. After storms, huge numbers of Razor Clam shells often wash up on beaches. Razor Shells are so-named because they resemble the old-fashioned 'cut-throat' razors used by barbers. Found on sandy shores all round our coasts.

When to see: January to December

 


Untitled design (24)Velvet Swimming Crab

The Velvet Swimming Crab comes exactly as advertised. Their body is covered in short hairs that give a velvet appearance and are soft to the touch. Like all swimming crabs, their rear-most legs are flattened like paddles, helping them swim effectively. They are speedy underwater and will catch swimming prey like fish and prawns, as well as munching on easier catches like worms, clams and sea snails. If you spot a crab with a big orange mass on their underside, don't worry - those are their eggs! Females carry the fertilised eggs around with them, protecting the eggs from hungry predators. An egg-carrying female is referred to as "berried". They live in rockpools on the shore and in shallow waters below the tideline. The Velvet Swimming Crab is also known as "Devil Crab". Whether they got this name from their red eyes or from their feisty behaviour, we're not sure - but we do know that we wouldn't put our fingers anywhere near their claws! Found on all UK coasts.

When to see: January to December


Untitled design (20)Common Sunstar

The Common Sunstar is a type of starfish, with 10-12 short arms that look like sun rays. It has an orangey-red disc (the centre) with beautiful concentric bands of yellow, orange, pink or white. The Sunstar is an echinoderm - which means "spiny skinned" and it lives up to the name as it is covered in small spines. It lives on the seabed in shallow waters close to the shore as well as down to depths of 50m. Small Sunstars are sometimes found in rockpools, so keep an eye out next time you're at the beach. The Common Sunstar is a voracious predator, feeding on sea cucumbers, brittlestars, starfish and even other sunstars! Found all around our coasts.

When to see: January to December

 


Dog fishSmall-spotted Catshark

The Small-spotted Catshark ( also know as Dogfish) is a small shark, so named due to the dark spots and blotches covering its skin. All sharks have very rough skin, covered in hard "dermal denticles" - which literally means "tiny skin teeth". If rubbed the wrong way, they are very coarse like sandpaper but it provides the shark with an effective chain-mail like protection. Catsharks are predators and feed on crabs, molluscs and other small fish. When threatened, they curl up into a donut shape - probably to look bigger and harder to eat! They are highly common around the UK and live close to the seabed in shallow waters down to 100m deep. They sometimes wash up dead on our beaches after storms, but you're most likely to come across one of their egg cases. Known as Mermaid's purses, shark (and ray and skate) egg cases are a good indicator of what species are breeding nearby. 

When to see: January to December


Little CuttleFishLittle Cuttlefish

The Little Cuttlefish is a small, cup-shaped cephalopod with large eye bulges. They are in fact a type of Bobtail Squid, rather than a true cuttlefish, and don't have a cuttlebone. They spend much of their time buried in sandy seabeds with only their eyes exposed, on the look out for predators and their favourite prey - little crustaceans. Like Common Cuttlefish, they are able to change colour using the chromatophores in their skin. They most often appear a paleish white with brown and black splodges - enabling them to blend in with their sandy home. If disturbed, Little Cuttlefish release a jet of ink and will change their colouration to pale to confuse the predator and make their escape. Found off all UK coasts.

When to see: January to December

 


Untitled design (25)Oyster Catcher

The Oystercatcher is very noisy wading bird with a loud 'peep-ing' call. On the coast, it specialises in eating shellfish, particularly cockles and mussels, which it either prises or hammers open with its strong, flattened bill. Originally a coastal species, the Oystercatcher has moved further inland over the last 50 years to breed on waterways and lakes. Most UK birds still spend their winters by the sea, however, and are joined by birds from Norway and Iceland. Widespread around the coast, with large wintering numbers at major estuaries. Also nests inland on flooded gravel pits and large rivers.

When to see: January to December

 


Untitled design (21)Dunlin

The Dunlin is a small sandpiper, which can be found at the coast all year round, preferring estuaries, where it seeks out insects, worms and molluscs to eat. In winter, it feeds in large flocks and roosts in nearby fields and saltmarshes. In summer, it breeds in the uplands of the UK, with large numbers in the Western and Northern Isles of Scotland, and the Pennines in England. The Dunlin is unmistakeable in its summer plumage: adults are brick-red above, with a black belly patch. In its winter plumage, the Dunlin is grey above and white underneath, looking very much like the Sanderling. It is a little smaller, however, and has a longer, down-curved bill. A common winter visitor to our coasts. Nests on upland moors and bogs in England, Scotland and Wales, and on coastal grasslands around the west coast of Scotland. 

When to see: January to December


Untitled design (27)Sanderling

The Sanderling is a medium-sized sandpiper. It feeds in small flocks at the edge of the tide, scampering back and forth after the waves, looking for insects, crustaceans, worms, fish and even jellyfish. Sanderlings breed in the Arctic, visiting the UK in the winter and passing through on migration during spring and autumn. The distance they travel varies, but individuals have been known to make 32,000 km annual round-trips to their breeding and wintering grounds. Sanderlings only have three toes on each foot; they are missing the hind toe, which gives them a distinctive running action - a bit like a clockwork toy. A common winter visitor to our coasts; best looked for on long, sandy beaches.

When to see: August to May


Ringed PloverUntitled design (32)

A small, rotund wader, the Ringed Plover nests on bare gravel, shingle and sand at the coast and around flooded gravel pits and reservoirs. It is a resident species in the UK, although it is joined by wintering birds from Europe. It forages for invertebrates and crustaceans in a particular way: standing and watching, running forward, pecking, then standing still again. The Ringed Plover tempts underground prey to the surface by 'foot-trembling': tapping its feet fast on the ground to mimic raindrops. Ringed Plovers that nest as far away as Greenland and Canada fly through the UK on migration. A common resident right around the coast that can also be found breeding on inland flooded gravel pits and reservoirs. 

When to see: January to December

 

Strawberry Anemone©Nigel Phillips, SnakelocksAnemone©Nigel Phillips, BeadletAnemome©Rosie Winch, Honeycomb Reef Worm© Nigel Phillips, SeaLemon©PaulNaylor, SeaHare©PaulNaylor, Bladderwrack© KirstenSmith, Sealettuce© Nigel Phillips, Hermit Crab© Alexander Mustard2020VISION, Razor Shell©NigelPhillips, Velvet Swimming Crab©Velvet Swimming Crab - Ben Bryant, Common Sunstar© Nigel Phillips, Lesser Spotted Catshark© Alexander Mustard2020VISION, Little cuttlefish © Ecomare - Sytske Dijksen - Wikipedia Commons, Oystercatcher © Ben Simmonds, Dunlin© Fergus Gill, Sanderling©Neil Aldridge, Ringed Plover ©Wildstock