Wild activities: rock pooling in Cornwall

Three children rockpooling on a grey day in Cornwall.

We love getting outdoors and connecting with nature as much as possible and there’s no doubt about it – as a family we are well and truly hooked on rock pooling. Let’s face it, living in Cornwall, surrounded by coastline, loving nature and wildlife as we do, it is the perfect antidote to a busy working life. To just grab a picnic, a net, a bucket and a seashore guide and head down to the nearest beach with rocks that uncover with the tide is a guaranteed spell of wonderment and immersion in a magical undersea world.


Rock pooling is one of the most child friendly activities you can do with little or no cost and rarely will you hear ‘I’m bored or ‘can I have?’ – most of the things we hear are whoops of excitement as each discovery is made as the rocks are turned over.

Our most recent adventure was in the company of rock pooling guru Heather Buttivant. I follow her blog and am always bowled over by the boundless enthusiasm and capacity for inspiring me with the photographs and descriptions of creatures she finds in the rock pools on our doorstep. We made contact and I invited her down to Falmouth to a family day on our favourite beach.


Our whole family 0-68 + dog and hers (13 of us) set off across the fields, children brandishing nets running on ahead. It took me back to my childhood favourite series of books ‘Five Go Adventuring’ by Enid Blyton – I was brimming over with excitement for the adventure which lay ahead!

Heather came equipped with white trays and a magnifying glass so we could examine our finds in detail. I think an old margarine tub will be coming with me next time to do the job. We had a high spring tide so the rocks were exposed as far as they ever could be – it pays so start before low tide so you get the maximum time on the reef.

We spread out and spent a marvellous few hours making no end of finds, shouting to one another to come and take a look. Heather was in demand for creature identification. Some of the best things are the tiniest: a transparent disc of jelly – the early stage of a sea fir, a weeny scorpion fish, clingfish eggs ready to hatch with their little eyes peeping out at us and the biggest, an edible crab big enough to eat, a stranded dogfish, a large rockling and starfish bigger than your hand.


We all exchanged stories of our finds over a picnic on the beach whilst the children entertained themselves climbing up and down a large rock pile for over an hour. You all know my passion for getting children outside and yet again this demonstrates how easily they entertain themselves when they are in a group with the most basic of equipment to play with – sand, bucket spade, rocks to climb, shells to collect. It was a cool, grey day, not at all warm but we were dressed for it, wrapped up in removable layers, which is another important consideration in our variable British climate.

Over the years I have witnessed some unthinking acts of cruelty on beaches and harbours when people are crab catching and rock pooling. All of these creatures are alive when found and need handling and treating carefully; crabs are solitary creatures who hide in dark crevices and hate being together in a bucket with others in the hot sun. Heather has some excellent advice on her website about how to be kind to the creatures you find (including the best way to pick up a crab), plus suggestions about the best beaches for rock pooling and how to identify your finds.


If you love rock pooling in Cornwall as we do, follow her blog – it’s inspirational! She also sometimes joins the Cornwall Wildlife Trust on their rock pooling events – maybe there’s something on whilst you are here in Cornwall to join in with. Happy rock pooling!

Useful information

It is always important to check the tides before you head off as many of the rock pools are completely covered at high tide.

Good footwear is vital as the rocks are often jagged and encrusted with barnacles – depending on the time of year we either wear wellingtons or beach shoes.


Are you ready to go wild this June?

Head over to the 30 Days Wild website to find out how to get involved, and and follow #30DaysWild on Twitter for more inspiration for random acts of wildness.

You can also follow how we’re getting on with the challenge on Facebook, Twitter and our blog.

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