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Discarded plastic bottle on the shore

Wildlife aware beach cleans

Participant guidance

This participant guidance can be downloaded as a PDF for printing.

Check with your beach clean coordinator about potentially sensitive wildlife areas including:

  • Resting birds: shingle beaches, spits and islands, as well as manmade structures like jetties are used by resting birds. They may be very well camouflaged.
  • Feeding birds: mudflats and saltmarsh habitats are essential feeding grounds. Birds will mostly be found near the water line.
  • Nesting birds (April to September): you might find areas of beach are roped off or marked with signs where birds are nesting on the ground. Avoid cleaning in their vicinity.
  • Seals: look our for seals that are ‘hauled out’ or resting on land, especially during breeding season: June to August for common seals and November to January for grey seals.
  • Vulnerable marine or coastal plants: take care of marine plants on beaches and in more sheltered locations which support highly specialised plants. Take care where you place your feet to avoid damaging vegetation
  • Larger bits of rubbish and debris may have become wildlife habitats: check very carefully before removing or moving, keeping in mind that tiny animals may be hidden in crevices.
  • Leave natural items on site: items such as shells, feathers, cuttlefish bones and plants enrich a habitat.
Sanderling on the beach
  • Check with your coordinator if unsure: for example check with before removing material that has anything growing on it.
  • Avoid turning things over and digging for litter: only remove visible litter.
  • Strandlines (high water marks) are important habitats for many small creatures: walk beside rather than on strandline material – it’s a vital feeding area for birds.


Looking out for wildlife

Always remember the Bird Aware Coastal Code

– Look out for birds
– Move further away if they become alert
– Keep dogs alongside you
– Follow instructions on signs. 

If birds fly away from an area, avoid cleaning that patch of ground as they might return.

If you are lucky enough to see seals during your beach clean-up, remember to:

– Remain vigilant to seals becoming alert to your presence
– Look out for signs such as: seals lifting their heads; seals becoming restless or shifting around; seals moving into the water: flushing or stampeding into the water.
– Move slowly away if there is any change in the seals’ behaviour.

Tip: If you find an animal that may be injured or in distress and you’re unsure what to do, call a local rescue organisation.

Share your findings

Some things you find on the coast may be of interest to researchers.

Consider contributing your valuable data to the following projects:

If you organise beach clean events, make sure you read our guidance for beach clean leaders.

Mermaid's purse