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The remarkable Northumberland shore encompasses a diverse mix of habitats at the meeting point between land and sea.
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Tunicate Photo: Claire Hedley

The daily tides provide a unique set of conditions in the intertidal zone, which attracts a rich abundance of plants and animals that are specially adapted to living in this extreme environment.

From natural rock pool aquariums to mysterious sea caves and expansive sandy and muddy shores, Northumberland has a rich marine ecosystem that is protected through numerous international, European and national nature conservation designations.

The dramatic seascape of the Northumberland coast is made up from a patchwork of contrasting geological features, providing a range of unique habitats for thousands of important marine plants and animals.

Rocky shores and wave lashed reefs

Patches of lichen colour the upper shore while the mid-shore is dotted with white barnacles and the cones of limpets. Further down, the bushy growth of wrack seaweeds conceals bedrock, boulders and cobbles beneath. At low tide, crabs and shore fish seek refuge beneath the damp seaweeds and boulders, whose undersides are coated with sheets of sponges and star sea squirts.

Natural rock pool aquariums are lined with a mosaic of coralline seaweeds and breadcrumb sponges, while sea anemones blossom as they extend their stinging tentacles. Dog whelks cluster around clumps of mussels, and hermit crabs roam around looking for empty shells to call their next home.

As the rocky shore extends beneath the waves, dense kelp forests smothered in leafy red seaweeds cover the bedrock. The thick marine canopy provides a safe haven for juvenile fish, while blue rayed limpets cling to the sawing fronds. In the darker depths, reef ledges, crevices, gullies and boulder slopes are covered with a carpet of white tube worms, hairy sea firs, spiny brittle stars, pulpy sea squirts, colourful sea anemones and fleshy dead man’s finger sponges.

Sea caves

Caves and tunnels indent the underwater rocky reefs of the Farne Islands, enticing divers to peer into their mysterious depths. Short tufts of shade-loving red seaweeds carpet the cave entrances, while soft sea firs, sponges and sea squirts thrive in their dark recesses. These caves are often the lair of crabs and lobsters. At Howick Haven, a large outcrop of limestone rock extends from the shore into the sea. The pounding waves have created huge caves and dramatic blowholes that the sea spouts through.

Sandy Bays

The castles of Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh punctuate the sweeping curves of two of Northumberland’s most impressive beaches. The sands of Newton-by-the-Sea are so fine that the grains can squeak when walked on. This fine sand is teeming with small invertebrates, delicate burrowing heart urchins, razor shells and sand eels. In winter, sanderling and other shore birds are often seen scurrying along the water’s edge, stopping to probe the wet sand for buried food.

Sheltered Mudflats

Wide expanses of muddy sand at Holy Island, Fenham Flats and Budle Bay are revealed by the falling tide. The surface of the flats is dotted with the coiled casts of lugworms and the grainy tubes of sandmason worms, while shellfish such as cockles and Baltic tellins are hidden beneath the surface. This bountiful feast attracts thousands of over-wintering wildfowl and waders that paddle and probe for these rich pickings. Every summer, meadows of seagrass cover the flats. This marine flowering plant is an important food source for wigeon and pale-bellied brent geese.

 Learning more

We have produced two guidebooks which will help you to explore the marine environment:

The Underwater World of Northumberland and Berwickshire

Exploring the Shore in Northumberland and Berwickshire

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