LAST week I visited one of my favourite spots on the North Devon coast.
The sight that greeted me was one of mindless death and destruction. Thousands of animals had died there.
The spot, a wide shore gulley, is paved with large flat boulders, which temporarily lifted with great care used to reveal abundant life, clingfish, brittlestars, small crabs, and extraordinary worms in the sediment and on the boulders attractive seaweeds a mass of tube worms and the lacy patterns of hundreds of colonial sea mosses and ascidians.
No longer, everything that could move was long gone, and the rest – the tiny encrusting animals and weeds were dead, bleached white in the sun, in what had become their graveyard.
Someone had unthinkingly turned all the large stones over and left them upside down. They may have been looking for bait or foraging, though somewhere unlikely to harbour anything large enough.
Maybe they did not know enough about what they were doing to realise the damage, not only to the animals but to the food chain and shore ecology.
As a marine enthusiast I have noticed lots more activity from foragers this year, many probably new to the activity. Hopefully they would welcome knowing more about the animals and their habitats and appreciate help in avoiding the kind of damage I encountered.
There are lots of guided rockpool rambles on offer this summer such as those run by Combe Martin Museum, the National Trust at Woolacombe, and by Coastwise North Devon.
While having fun and learning that marine life is much more than what you can eat, participants are encouraged to take on board the Marine Biological Association's Seashore Code with its advice to "Treat all living things with respect and replace any stone or seaweed exactly how you found it" – and that includes the right way up.
Chairman, Coastwise North Devon.