West Runton beach has to be one of my favourite places to explore wildlife. It is undoubtedly a very special place; famous not only for its incredible fossils finds (e.g. the West Runton mammoth), it is also a fantastic place to discover what wildlife lives in our seas today.
Just 200m off the coast lies the nationally and internationally important chalk reef
. Covering an area of 321km², it is one of the largest of its kind in Europe. The reef provides valuable habitat for a wealth of marine life, both common and rare. Indeed in 2016 a new species of sea sponge was discovered here – the very aptly named ‘purple sponge’. Due to its significance to marine life, it has been given Marine Conservation Zone
status – a designation, which ensures that its wildlife and habitats are recognised and protected for the future.
Not only this, but West Runton beach is one of very few sites in Norfolk where rockpools and associated species of wildlife, can be found. At low tide the flint rockpools and their residents are exposed, giving visitors a chance to glimpse some of the amazing creatures living in our seas, before they are once again enveloped by the waves.
Wildlife typically spotted in West Runton’s rockpools include anemones, several species of crabs, prawns, and winkles, as well as less common finds, such as squat lobsters. Alongside these creatures there is also a wondrous array of colourful seaweeds.
The rockpool habitat is a hostile place to live – wildlife must cope with the constant ebb and flow of the tide, and the resulting changes in water depth and temperature this inevitably causes. They must also deal with exposure to the elements and of course to predators. Rockpool inhabitants are therefore well-adapted to their harsh environment, be it through impeccable camouflage, or ingenious ways of preventing dessication (drying out). Every creature or plant found is therefore an incredible example of nature’s ability to prevail against all obstacles. It is therefore really important to treat all wildlife found with care.
Rockpooling is a fantastic, hands-on way to learn and be inspired about our incredible marine wildlife, but it’s important to rockpool responsibly, so as to keep both wildlife and rockpoolers safe. The new “responsible Rockpooling” interpretation panel at West Runton provides visitors with information on the key species found in the rockpools and tips on how best to locate them. So why not head to West Runton beach at low tide in the next few weeks and see what wonderful wildlife you can find whilst doing some responsible rockpooling?
Isabelle Mudge is NWT's Education Officer