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No. 37 Explore the wonders of a rock pool

Visitors rockpooling at Wembury Beach, Wembury, Devon
Visitors rockpooling at Wembury Beach | © National Trust Images/Megan Taylor

As the tide goes out, the secrets of the sea are revealed in the rock pools left behind. Clamber, crouch, peer and scoop on a rock-strewn beach, to discover wonders in your private pocket of ocean life. Exploring the wonders of a rock pool is no. 37 on the list of ‘50 things to do before you’re 11¾’.

When to go rock-pooling

You can go rock-pooling at any time of the year, but the best time to go is from late spring to early autumn, as this is when the weather is at its kindest. The UK seas tend to be at their warmest in September and coldest in March.

It’s best to go rock pooling on a day when it’s dry and calm. This will keep the surface of a rock pool still, so it’s easier to see what’s below the water.

What will you spot?

Take your adventures down towards the sea shore. The rock pools closest to the water will be alive with creatures, like fish, crabs and interesting plant life.

Peer closely into the water. You might find your own reflection looking back at first, so you’ll have to crouch down close and stay still for a little while. Can you see anything darting about near the top? Or is there something moving very slowly right at the bottom? How many different colours can you spot?

Rocks can be a great hiding place for beach-loving creatures. Can you spot anything living above and around your pool? How do the rocks feel on your fingers and toes? Can you find any shells, fossils or cracks? Peek inside crevices and you might discover something looking right back at you.

Take a dip

You’ll want to get your hands wet to truly explore what lies beneath the water. Watch your fingers as they sink into the pool – do they look different as they move? How does the water feel?

Search for some seaweed or other plant life with your hands. Can you describe its texture or smell? What else can you discover with your eyes, ears, fingers or nose? Be gentle as you go and watch out for those cheeky crabs.

People rock-pooling on the beach at The Leas, Tyne & Wear
People rock-pooling on the beach at The Leas | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Remember your bucket

It’s a good idea to take a bucket with you so you can take a closer look at the treasures you find. Put your bucket slowly into the water and see what swims inside or push it gently through the water to scoop up a critter. Is there anything surprising in your bucket? Make a quick sketch, take a photo or write down your findings in a nature diary.

Many rock pool creatures are small and delicate, so it’s best to avoid using a net in case they become tangled and hurt. It’s important to pop your creatures back where they came from after a short time, so they can carry on with their day.

Rock-pooling safety tips

We want you to have a great day rock-pooling, so make sure you check with an adult before you set off and wear shoes with a good grip. Old trainers, wellies or wetsuit boots with a thick sole are ideal. Flip-flops are fun to wear, but they might make you stumble or slip on the rocks.

A family exploring the rock pools on the beach at Porthor, Wales
A family exploring the rock pools on the beach at Porthor | © National Trust

It can get chilly when you’re rock-pooling, so take a warm jumper or a coat with you. A small travel first aid kit to deal with cuts and scrapes is also a good idea.

Watch for the waves

It’s important to check the tide times for your chosen beach – you don’t want to be caught out by the sea coming in. The best time to set out is at low tide: this is when you’ll most likely find lots of rock pools.

Discover daily tide times for your location from websites such as Tide Times and BBC Weather.

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