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Why the beach is at its best in autumn

Tim Scoones Tim Scoones | 12:24 UK time, Friday, 13 November 2009

Autumnwatch goes coastal for its 13 November edition, focusing on marine wildlife in Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales to show the beach is not just for summer.

Chris and Kate on Angle Bay

It's good timing for a show beside the sea. The Marine & Coastal Access Act came into force around England and Wales yesterday. (I've also blogged about how you can do can help our sealife.)

Covering 240 square miles, Pembrokeshire is home to Britain's only truly coastal national park and is surrounded by some of the finest coastline in Europe. Seabird breeding sites, numerous bays and sandy beaches meant our wildlife camera operators and presenters had a rich variety of wildlife to film.

Looking for wildlife gems that might have washed up

You might think summer is the best time to visit Britain's beaches but it's during autumn and winter that storms and turbulent seas wash up wildlife gems along the strandline.

The strandline lacks any true nature conservation status and yet a wealth of invertebrate species are partially or entirely reliant on this coastal environment. These invertebrates provide an important food resource for birds such as pipits, gulls and crows.

Beachcombing is a fascinating way to learn more about marine life off the coast near you and can provide clues to the wildlife that visits your local beach to scavenge on an all-it-can-eat buffet of whelk eggs, sponges, limpets and sea mats.

At this time of year, overwintering waders gather on estuaries and bays right across the country. As high tide recedes, you might see oystercatchers, redshank, curlew and turnstone (to name but a few) wading across the fertile mud in search of juicy morsels. Mudflats and marshes are also popular sites to spot these iconic birds.

The choughs, a coastal treat to behold

Clifftop walks in autumn and winter can be invigorating and informative. Hardy birds, like chough, the rarest member of the crow family that breeds in Britain, can be seen along rocky coasts with short grassland seeking out insects and larvae. These fantastic birds, with their blood-red beaks and legs demonstrate their prowess in the skies with dramatic aerial displays - a real treat to behold.

There is never a poor time of year to visit beaches for a spot of rock-pooling. Set out to the pools three hours after high tide for a chance to spot a rich bounty of colourful species in the clear water. Periwinkles, sea slugs, sponges and sea squirts are all common inhabitants of these mini ecosystems. If you fancy it then BBC Breathing Places has an excellent guide to rockpooling [PDF].

Tim Scoones is the Executive Producer of Autumnwatch


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