Bay watch team fights limpet abuse

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MARINE BIOLOGISTS call them "the hard men of the rocky shores". Protected by their conical shells from the buffeting of the waves, the resilient creatures cling stubbornly to Britain's coastline, munching on seaweed and playing an important role in the ecology of the marine environment.

But in spite of their legendary toughness, the school holidays bring nothing but misery to the molluscs as merciless children turn beaches into limpet-strewn battlefields.

At Kimmeridge Bay in Dorset, drastic action has been taken. A "limpet protection zone" has been set up to police the beach and urge youngsters - and sometimes adults - not to indulge in the time-honoured pastime of taking them by surprise and prising them from the rocks.

"Love them and leave them," urges Peter Tinsley, a marine warden for the Dorset Wildlife Trust, who set up the scheme three years ago. "Limpet abuse isn't on the scale it used to be but there are still people out there who persecute them.

"It's a difficult problem to deal with. You can't stand out there hitting people over the head for disturbing them but you can educate people and tell them exactly what they are. Just by talking to people and putting out a board with a jokey message everyone suddenly thinks limpets are great."

Mr Tinsley, a marine biologist, explains that limpets are living creatures and tells people that they are doing humans a favour. By sucking up everything around them they stop the rocks becoming slippery.

"The scheme has been a great success story. I've even had members of the public having a go at other people for putting the boot in," he says.

Although they are by no means an endangered species limpets play an important role in the food chain and are a food source for birds such as oystercatchers, he says.

At first glance the beach, part of the Purbeck Marine Wildlife Reserve, appears to be a thriving home for limpets but closer inspection of the rocks provides evidence that some of the molluscs have been forced to give up the ghost. On parts of the beach - visited by 100,000 people a year - the only traces of limpets are the marks where they once hung on. Others have battered shells where people have kicked them into submission.

Chiding a child who is running along the rocks holding a limpet like a trophy, the warden asks: "Where did you get that from?" He patiently tells the boy that the mollusc would much prefer to be stuck to the rock.

The summer months bring two perils for the molluscs: hot weather and mischievous humans. "They will be sighing with relief when the kids go back to school." He adds: "If it gets really hot - into the 40s - they can bake in their shells."

Louise Edge, visiting with her six-year-old daughter, was impressed with the scheme. "It seems a good idea. I have seen the notice about it and I think people disturb them mainly out of ignorance."



LIMPETS ARE molluscs that can live well into their teens - if they are given the chance.

They grow roughly 5mm in length each year.

Limpets change sex as they age - going from neuter to male to female.

Limpet larvae drift in the plankton until spring, when the 1mm-long baby limpets settle on the shore.

They scrape out a living by rasping almost invisible algae off bare- looking rock.

Limpets wander from their "homes" to feed, returning to the exact same spot at the end of their foraging trips.