Seashell Identification

A visit to the seashore at any time of the year can make a fantastic day out, and provides a wonderful opportunity to see some amazing creatures up-close!

Seashells are a fun way to learn about the natural world, while helping to collect useful information about the species that live around our coasts.

The UK coastline consists of thousands of miles of rocky shores, sandy beaches and pebble-covered bays and hosts an amazing range of species.

As the meeting place of land and sea, you’re never sure what you’ll find in rockpools, or hiding in the seaweed along the strandline!

On these pages you will find lots of information to help you find and identify different species of snails and bivalves from their shells.

Pelican’s foot © Suzanne Bairner, Flat or Purple topshell © Peter Barfield/MarLIN, Sea potato © Cwmiraeth

The next time you visit the beach, take along a copy of the Seashell guide for your area and take a note of the sea shells and living creatures you find.

Rocky, sheltered beaches, with gravel or sand tend to support the widest range of creatures, but just about any section of the coast could have some exciting finds.

The seaweed, driftwood and shells that form the strandline is an important habitat for many specialist invertebrates such as sandhoppers and rare beetles, and these in turn provide food for birds such as Turnstones.

Mechanical beach-cleaning, which removes all of the washed-up seaweed and flotsam from the strandline to make the beach look tidy, harms coastal biodiversity by destroying this special habitat.

Top tips on finding shells

Walking along the strandline, where the tide has deposited seaweed, driftwood and flotsam is a great way to find lots of empty shells.

Rockpooling is a fun way to observe the behaviour of living seashore creatures.  When you first approach a rock pool, the vibration of your feet and your shadow may send small creatures into hiding, but be patient and it won’t take long for hermit crabs, shrimps and other small animals to come back out.

Carefully lifting or turning over rocks can reveal a range of species hiding underneath, but be sure to follow the Seashore Code and replace any rocks and seaweed that you’ve moved as these provide shelter from the heat of the sun and help protect the rock pool creatures from predators.

Seashore code

Remember these important things when visiting the seashore:

1. Take care! The seashore can be a sloppy, rocky place – so watch where you step and check the tide times before exploring.

2. Treat animals as you would like to be treated.

3. Do not dislodge or remove animals from the place in which you found them.

4. Carefully lift and replace rocks and seaweed where you found them.

5. If you find anything unusual do not touch it until you know it is safe.

6. Plastic waste can be very harmful to wildlife. Take your rubbish home and consider helping with your next local beach clean-up.

7. Only take a few empty shells home with you- remember empty shells may be reused by many other species including hermit crabs and even the Gold-fringed mason bee (Osmia aurulenta) that nests in empty whelk shells on the coast.

8. Wash your hands when you have finished.

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