Although the sandy shores of the UK are home to some conspicuous animals such as seabirds and seals, in the absence of such species they may appear a little barren at first glance. However, much of the life they support is actually found below the surface of the sand, where many invertebrate and fish species live buried out of sight (2).
Two species of seal are found in UK waters, the common seal (Phoca vitulina) and the larger grey seal (Halichoerus grypus). Both species haul out of the sea from time to time, in particular to moult and breed, and can be seen basking on both sandy and rocky shores (7).
Terrestrial mammals such as deer, bats and voles also visit the shoreline to forage occasionally, and in the Scilly Isles the lesser white-toothed shrew (Crocidura suaveolens) has adapted to live on the seashore and grassy sand dunes (1) (8).
A large number of both resident and migratory birds feed on sandy shores around the UK, foraging for invertebrate prey in the sand or among the debris of the strandline (1). Oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus), common ringed plovers (Charadrius hiaticula), terns, gulls, sandpipers and a whole host of closely related wading birds are all regularly seen on British shores(9).
Although most commonly found in lowland heaths, the sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) is also present in coastal sand dunes in some areas of the UK, requiring habitat with a mixture of plant cover and exposed sand where eggs can be laid(10).
A huge diversity of invertebrate life thrives on sandy shores, from tiny sand hoppers (Talitrus saltator) to the common shore crab (Carcinus maenas) (1). Under the surface, burrowing species can be found, such as the sea potato (Echinocardium cordatum), razor shell (Ensis ensis) and common cockle (Cerastoderma edule) (2).
Perhaps the most easily detected species is the lugworm (Arenicola marina). Living in a U shaped burrow under the sand, its presence is signalled by a cast of coiled defecated sediment on the surface (2)(11).
A number of species live on the sandy seabed close to shore. The lesser weever (Echiichthys vipera) lives partly buried in the sand and is notable for the painful sting it delivers with the spines of its dorsal fin(12). Other fish found here include the juvenile European plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) and lesser sand eel (Ammodytes tobianus)(13)(14).
Whilst most seaweeds grow on craggy, rocky shorelines, there is some plant life to be found on coastal sand dunes(15). Dunes are typically formed as the wind blows sand into drifts which get trapped around plants such as marram grass (Ammophila arenaria), the roots of which help to hold the dune together(16). These stabilised dunes subsequently provide habitat for other coastal plants including sea holly (Eryngium maritimum) sea spurge (Euphorbia paralias), centaury (Centaurium erythraea) and prickly saltwort (Salsola kali)(15)(16).