Beachcombing

Searching in the strandline for heart shaped pebbles, pretty shells and sea glass is more than just a pastime. Finds symbolise happy times spent by the sea

Most people assume that when I see the sea, I get in it. But actually that is not always the case. Sometimes I stay dry and can be found just as happy scouring the strandline for pretty pebbles, shells and sea glass.

Every pot and shelf in my home is full of my finds. Moulted crab shells, wishing stones, hag stones, shells, drift wood, coral and my most prized possessions, sea glass. Each one reminds me of a beach I visited and happy times. Some people display photographs, I display my beach bounty.

Beachcombing is similar to sea swimming in lots of ways. It is another way I can relax, unwind and rest. I struggle to switch off and have had very little success at relaxation exercises and meditation. But by the sea, I am instantly soothed into a calm state and if you throw in a repetitive process that holds my attention without mental effort and there you have it. Mindfulness.

I started searching the shoreline when I was very young. I often collected huge quantities of shells from Selsey’s East Beach. Large scallop and oyster shells discarded by the large fishing fleet that was once there. And smaller spiral shells in the patches where the sand meets the shingle. The dull dark periwinkles thrown back into the sea but the pretty pink top shells hoarded.  I would then create pictures and patterns on large pebbles using clear nail varnish to attach the shells and show off their shine.  When my daughter was young, I bought her a shell collecting net bag and books to help her identify them all, only for her to show little interest and hurl herself into the water. They didn’t go unused as I assumed my shoreline position to keep a watchful eye on her and have snatched searches. She has now become the world’s best sea glass spotter so something must have rubbed off. My son has always been my magpie. Always finding shiny treasure, lost earrings and feathers, proudly bestowing them to me as boons.

As I’ve aged, my love for looking for beach booty hasn’t abated. Shingle beaches are often ignored in favour of sandy beach breaks or dramatic cliffs by the many. But I love a pebble. I look for unusual shapes and colours. My husband used to search for black round pebbles that would fit perfectly into my belly button. If he finds one now he still calls them belly button stones.  I am yet to find a piddock in a piddock hole but I certainly have enough large soft pebbles with evidence that they have been there. They are bi-valve shellfish that  seem to particularly like the local soft chalk to burrow into and there they stay, hiding away their bioluminescence. Once they are gone, they leave smooth large holes in their wake making the most attractive hag stones. They are abundant in clay and sandstone too. I also search for wishing stones. These are pebbles that have stripes of quartz through them or round them. The idea is for you to make a wish and throw or skim them back into the sea. The reason none of my wishes have come true is because they end up on a shelf, a surface or in a jar! I also love a grey basalt pebbles, flat round pieces of slate and banded metamorphic stones all made by hot lava.

You can also find sea gems, some of which are semi-precious stones like amethyst. Milky quartz is another preferred pebble. There is the famous Whitby Jet, Amber to be found in Suffolk and Red Garnets on the aptly names Ruby Bay in Scotland. Regardless of its status I treasure the pieces of shingle that evoke a reaction in me, that fascinate me and provide a lasting memory of happy times spent on a beach.

The best time to go beachcombing is after storms when the sea has spat out more of her contents. My preference is for shingle beaches, as like finds like and smooth pebble shaped and sized sea glass can be found by the most observant. I follow the spring tide strandline on a receding tide walking from west to east on the south coast. This is the direction of the prevailing wind and the tidal flow at home, so I feel as  if I am following in the footsteps of the treasures I find.

Different beaches provide different finds depending on the direction they face, their geography, sea currents, the local sea bed and also the local industries. When I am away I always search and love that I find things in other places that I wouldn’t come across at home. The North Cornish coast is home to many a ship wreck due to its rugged coast line. Wrecking, an opportunist activity of coastal communities, regularly takes place there when a ship has the misfortune of failing to avoid the granite outcrops. The cargo becomes fair game. This part of the country also has visitors from afar washing up on the shore. The gulf stream regularly provides beach treasures, from cowrie shells to coconuts,  all up and down the west of the UK that have travelled all the way from the Caribbean.

Local industry, either past or current, can also play a big part in what you find on the beach. Mudlarking on Tower Beach on the River Thames is now illegal but the river has been used as a dumping ground from Neolithic times to the modern day. The finds there range from Roman coins to children’s toys. Sea pottery, also known as beach pottery, sea porcelain or sea china, sources are usually local to where they are found. And likely to have been thrown into the sea as waste. Much of the sea pottery found in Ireland and the UK dates back to the 19th and even 18th centuries. Seaham beach, in the North East,  is famous for sea glass. Londonderry Bottleworks was based there, which operated from the 1850s to 1921. Waste from the glass making process was regularly dumped into the water and has spent over 100 years be worn smooth by the North Sea.

My best ever sea glass haul was along the shores of the river Fal. I like to think of the merchant navy  and pirates in tall ships flinging bottles of rum into the sea or shanty singing fishermen swigging beer and discarding their empties over the side. I found a undamaged black glass bottle stopper there. The best spot to find it in Brighton is along the stretch from Shoreham Port to Hove. Again in close proximity to a harbour. Much of our local Sea glass is not as smooth as that of Seaham. It takes at least 40 years to create the milky smooth surface and sadly much of our glass comes from recent litter louts.

Wombling the West Pier has been a popular pastime for locals. Particularly after big storms. The shelf in my bathroom is a pier floorboard and I have other remnants of drift wood dotted around the house. We also get a considerable amount of fishing waste washing up on our shores.  Both from commercial fishermen and anglers. Lots of thin fishing line tangled in the strandline seaweed is all too common along with cast off and cut off pieces of plastic coated rope and net. Finds like this can be repurposed. A fishing tray I rescued from Shoreham is now home to beetroot, lettuce and tomatoes in my back garden. I love the colours of the fishing rope and hang it like bunting. Local artist and ocean activist, Kitty Kipper weaves and sculpts using ghost nets and marine plastic. Establishing an emotional connection with a place, like the beach, makes you passionate about its protection. Beachcombers inevitably become beach guardians.

Whatever the type of beach you find yourself on to forage through the flotsam, you will find joy. Walking slowly, taking in the sea air, being curious is a respite from the real world for a few minutes. Or in my case hours. When I recently threatened to take my sons Xbox away from him, he retaliated by threatening to take the beach away from me. Even he appreciates  the emotional connection I have to the shore. Spending time beachcombing in a salty outdoor setting is a wonderful way to reduce stress.It doesn’t matter if you don’t find what you have come to the beach to search for, the actual practice of beachcombing is restorative and relaxing enough to be its own reward.

 

Beachcombing DOs and DON’Ts

The strandline is in fact a place of food and shelter for small creatures. Collect things sparingly and try not to disturb the lines of seaweed too much.

Make sure you know what the tide is doing. While your eyes are looking down you may not notice how much the tide is racing in. You can’t take your treasures home if you are stuck at the bottom of a cliff.

Likewise the sky- incoming weather fronts likes squalls and fog can appear suddenly.

Go in the winter, early in the morning, when the beaches are empty.

Always take an extra bag or two to pick up the litter you will inevitably find.

Many of our shingle beaches are man-made and are actually there as part of our coastal defence. If you are going to take, doing it sparingly and pay the price by collecting some litter.

Make sure you stretch afterwards, walking with your eyes down, neck bent an back stooped can result in aches and pains.

Make something with your finds or at least display them. But don’t try and drill through sea glass unless you have specialist tools. This was an experiment that went badly wrong in my house and I now have a hag stone hole in my desk!

Best find – gold shell bracelet. Worst find – false teeth

Leave No Trace

A Seabird response to the scenes of devastation on the beaches of Brighton and Hove

We watched the Blue Planet series, in shock, pledged to do better and listed David Attenborough as one of our dream dinner guests. We applauded Greta Thunberg when she addressed world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit and roared  “How dare you look away… and come here saying that you’re doing enough”. We supported our young when they marched as part of their school Climate Strikes hopeful that they would make a difference. Fast forward to the global pandemic and scenes of litter strewn beaches at popular coastal resorts. It has left those that cherish the beach, those that watched, applauded and marched, devastated. Unless your head is firmly stuck in the sand the destruction of ocean habitats and wildlife cannot be news to you. We are quite literally choking the lungs of the earth and cutting off the supply chain of our own existence.

I regularly visit my local beach and get in the sea. It’s where I find head-space like no other. When I swim in the sea, I feel part of it, connected to it at a fundamental level. It is very different to the other ways humans connect with nature. When you walk in the countryside you are not really in it, just an observer. When you cycle across mountains or climb to the summit you are aided or propelled by your equipment. But when you are swimming, you are in it. Not on it, or around it, but immersed in it. And you need no equipment other than yourself. When you enter the water you do just that, you enter it become part of it , connect with it. You connect with the sea in a way like no other. It is a place I can collect my thoughts, but sadly of late, not until I have collected other peoples rubbish. And it breaks my heart.

When I arrive at the beach, you can taste the salt on your tongue and hear the shingle on the shore.  The wind down has commenced and every part of my being knows it won’t be long until I am weightless yet buoyed up in a big briny embrace. But recently this has been replaced with despair as I make my way across the lawns, the prom, the pebbles through swathes of litter. Disgusting, dirty rubbish everywhere. As a regular beach user in a popular coastal city I am used to seeing litter on the beaches, particularly in the summer months but not on this scale. The COVID effect has seen huge numbers of tourists flock to the beach, teens escape the confines of the home and locals make the most of what is on their doorstep. And why shouldn’t they. It’s a wonderful place to spend time. But it has been at a huge cost to the environment and the wellbeing of those who feel passionately about protecting our patch. My social media feed shows me it is the same all over the UK as beauty spots are dangerously over-packed with people and the next day by their discarded rubbish. But we are shouting into an echo chamber of like-minded conscious folk. Our message is not reaching those that need to hear it.

On an individual level I’ve made a lot of changes over the years. I am no better than my neighbour but as I swim in the sea most days, and see first hand the impact waste can have on my happy place, I make my consumer choices accordingly. But this is not enough. I am one person. Despair needs to turn into anger to be the fuel and force behind action. Action that will provide a sense of purpose and stop me from feeling useless. Litter on the beach is a massive issue and on an individual level, overwhelming to tackle. But if it broken down into smaller pieces, shared across a community, or focusing on one area of the seafront, it begins to feel a whole lot more achievable. Could the answer be a community led campaign with a collective consciousness at its centre?

Local photographer, visual creative and community collaborator Coral Evans thinks so. She is using her  anger to demonstrate how much she wants to make a change. She has channelled her anger to work with others on solutions and has kicked off the local ‘Leave No Trace’ campaign. Every aspect of this campaign, from design to implementation has been created voluntarily by members of the community, born from a real worry about the impact both visitor and resident rubbish is having on our immediate environment. Using social media and images to promote the message to visitors and residents of Brighton and Hove to be more responsible and dispose of rubbish of our beaches. Whilst talks with the city council are in their infancy the clicktivism campaign has commenced, bringing people  together to focus on the campaign cause.

And the Salty Seabirds and Seabirds Ltd are joining them. Bringing people together is what Salty Seabirds does and this one focuses specifically on our community space.  As a Social Enterprise,  Seabirds Ltd, champions communities and campaigns that match our values of protecting our planet. We are answering the call to arms from the Leave No Trace campaign.

So what can we do?

It’s time to bin the bin debate: All too often the full bins, not enough bins, no recycling bins are used as a justification for litter to be left. If you had the means to get it to the beach you have the means to take it home. Stop relying on bins and take your litter home. Support and share the good work done to promote public awareness by the abundance of incredible volunteer community groups we have across the UK. Posters and signage promoting responsible disposal of litter is an easy, relatively cheap and effective way of getting the message across. Just look at these designs by creative Seabirds Coral, Jess and Rachel.

Protect your patch: There is a beach, in Hove, we affectionately refer to as D5 which is the home of the Seabirds. It’s where our big (pre-covid) weekly swims take place. It is our community hub and we are fiercely protective of it. We need to collectively find a way to promote a cleaner beach environment in this small piece or shingle and encourage other local swimming groups, beach users and outdoor enthusiasts to do the same. This can be done with posters and personal/group beach cleans in the short term. In the long term there are many ways we can make a difference from the installation of a beach clean station with a deposit scheme for litter pickers, running awareness sessions for local children, to commissioning a litter swallowing seabird sculpture on the prom! (My favourite idea!)

Promote getting outdoors (and in the sea) responsibly: We all know that dropping litter is not acceptable. Those doing it, know it. But they just don’t feel the same way about the beach as year round sea swimmers do. When the place you go to seek refuge from the world, to relax and unwind and enjoy the beauty of nature is reduced to a huge dustbin you are quite rightly outraged. But there are people in the community less fortunate than us, less privileged than us and there fore less connected to sea and don’t understand the need to protect our environment. Encouraging others to get outdoors and get in the sea is a critical first step. Promote your outdoor community, really be inclusive, reach out to those who most need to get some wellbeing in the wild. Reach out to diversify your group. This is a time when many are isolated, society is fractured, yet we have a real opportunity bring people together, and inspire them to get involved.

There are things we can do in both the long and short term. Things we can do as part of the beach community. Things we can do get the message out there to Leave No Trace.

It’s time to turn the tide on litter!

Links to Leave No Trace Brighton:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/leavenotracebrighton/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leavenotracebrighton/

litter cover

Do it for David – alternatives to plastic

Being plastic free is hard. There are lots of images on Social Media and slightly preachy people telling you to change your ways as they eat from bamboo bowls. But old habits die hard. And giving up plastic is bloomin’ hard. They don’t tell you that. That conversation is not in the public domain about just how hard it is to avoid plastic all together. It’s easy to post and despair at a single tangerine peeled and packaged in a plastic tub. It’s also easy to avoid buying ridiculous products like this. But in reality, in day to day life, when you have a habit that has been part of your upbringing and culture for your whole life, it’s bloomin’ hard.  To even realise you’ve consumed single use plastic sometimes is hard as it’s our way of life to grab a bottle of water when thirsty or a ready-made sandwich when hungry. We all know we need to reduce our plastic consumption and stop polluting the seas or we will inevitably kill off life on earth. But we have a habit of convenience and a cupboard full of Tupperware.

However, as the famous supermarket that packages skinned fruit in plastic says, ‘every little helps’. And at Seabirds HQ, much like the rest of the nation, we have fallen for David, (not Hasslehoff). Along with 14 million other viewers we tuned in every Sunday night to Blue Planet II to listen to David Attenborough tell us, gently and stoically we are killing ocean life. We want him to be our uncle/dad/granddad and have him round for Sunday roasts. But who can forget the dead whale calf that the mother refused to let go. Hope in a hopeless situation.

David has bought the conversation to the table, the pub, on-line, Westminster. So let’s #doitfordavid and think about the small, easy, manageable changes we can make. There is no planet B so we need a plan A. Here is our Plan A Top 10 affordable and achievable changes.

  1. Straws – Do you really need a straw to drink your drink? Unless you are a small child or physically challenged I would suggest the answer is no. So when you are out and about either refuse a plastic straw if offered or bring your own stainless steel one. I like to slurp up my morning smoothie through a straw so have stainless steel ones in my cutlery drawer.
  2. Toothbrush – every time I watch Bear Grylls take some more nauseatingly annoying people onto a deserted island to survive I despair. Not just at the contestants, but at the tide of plastic on these beautiful paradise beaches and it is always toothbrushes! So switch to bamboo. Simples!
  3. Coffee Cup – this is a money saving change too. Most coffee shops will discount their coffee price if you are using a reusable cup. There are lots on the market to choose from but be warned some are made from plastic! So chose a bamboo, stainless steel or glass. (The paper disposable cups on offer do not recycle as they are chemically coated to make them waterproof.)
  4. Water Bottle – loads of people carry their own water bottle when they go to the gym, in the car or just out and about, So switch to non-plastic bottles. You can get aesthetically beautiful isothermal bottles now which keep water cold for 24 hours.
  5. Reducing microfibres – this is the invisible mainly unknown threat to our seas. Most of our clothes, especially from affordable high street stores, contain microfibres. Naked to the human eye, tiny pieces of plastic that make up the material, are released when washed into rivers and the sea. Avoiding the obvious ones like microfibre towel and replacing them with cotton ones is easy. Avoiding high street fashion is not so easy. Some shops like H&M have a conscious range of clothes made from natural organic materials like cotton that do not contain microfibres. For synthetic materials, an easy solution is a bag to use in your washing machine that traps the microfibres like a Guppy Friend.
  6. Shampoo – not all shampoo comes in plastic bottles. Many cosmetic companies are now creating shampoo bars. Seabirds are big fans of Lush shampoo bars which fit into a handy tin to store. A tiny bit froths up beautifully so it lasts for ages. We are still on the hunt for a conditioner bar that can handle our sea ravaged and (sun) bleached hair.
  7. Soap – we didn’t always dispense our soap from a pump action plastic bottle. In the days of yore we had bars of soap. So just go back to them!
  8. Bag for Life – I think most people now have these in their boot when they go to the supermarket. But how many people remember to take them to their local shops or are caught short during an impulse purchase. A string bag or fold away bag for life which folds into it’s own storage pocket is the answer. Mine is from a well known supermarket chain.
  9. Pick Up Litter – there are lots of local beach cleans organised by local community groups, Surfers against Sewage, Marine Conservation Society and the like. Here in Brighton we have the wonder Pier2Pier Silent Disco Beach Cleans. But you don’t need to wait for someone to organise one….don’t worry I am not suggesting you organise one yourself. But when you go to the park, the beach, or anywhere really, if you see litter pick it up. Yes the bins are always full and never emptied so take it home!
  10. Festival Pints – the summer staple for many is a festival and they are a great way to spend a hedonistic weekend. But oh the aftermath of litter. Obviously glass and cans are a danger to humans but the alternative plastic and wax coated paper cups used are a danger to the environment. So pack a stainless steel pint pot. It keeps your drink cold, for beer drinkers it retains the head and it is just so much nicer to drink out of. If you don;t believe us just ask Beer Yeti. Again we chill in the fridge and use for smoothies at home.

There are lots of other changes you can make. I have recently started to carry bamboo cutlery in my handbag and my swimsuit is made from econyl.  Many say why bother when our refuse collection companies don’t actually recycle the stuff we put in recycling bins……but David has given us hope. So these are our top 10 easy and affordable changes. No preaching, just suggesting. It is hard but #doitfordavid

Image result for david attenborough blue planet