The Intertidal Discovery project has completed the first ever baseline survey of intertidal habitats for conservation and public benefit along the coast of north Cornwall, England. Martin Goodall explains the background to this work.

There is a desperate need for baseline marine data, and monitoring in the marine environment is high on the UK Government’s agenda to underpin local and national marine conservation strategies. This article gives an overview of a project that addresses these needs, and hopefully will stimulate thoughts about large-scale monitoring, methodologies and best methods of sharing/disseminating results.

An evidence-based approach

In 2011, a national evidence gathering exercise recommended the designation of 127 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ) in England, under the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009). However, in 2012 the UK Government’s scientific advisors argued that only 31 sites were deemed to have a sufficient evidence-base on which to proceed.

Anyone who has spent time at the coast will know what a fascinating variety of species are present. That is all well and good, but when it comes to conservation management and legal designations it is essential to be able to turn general appreciation and anecdotal accounts into robust scientific evidence.

In southwest England the Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (ERCCIS) and Cornwall Wildlife Trust (CWT), hold a wealth of information about Cornwall’s marine habitats and species. This is a truly fantastic resource but it is not publically available, and is only of limited use to those making management decisions (as illustrated during the recent MCZ consultation process). To address this, and to provide much needed information about the ecological state of our coastline, a project called ‘Intertidal Discovery’ was set up in June 2012 by ERCCIS and CWT.

Conducting foot surveys for the Intertidal Discovery Project. Image: Caz Waddell.

The Intertidal Discovery Project

The project team and volunteers have surveyed the entire Cornish north coast using Intertidal Biotope Mapping. This approach has been recognized as the best method for collecting broad-scale, baseline data for intertidal areas (Wyn et al., 2006), and allows the results to be utilized as widely as possible.

The team use hand-held computers in the field to produce habitat maps, assess site characteristics, take detailed target notes and geo-referenced photographs, and produce comprehensive species lists for each area of survey. This use of technology dramatically reduces the office time needed to collate the data for analysis and eventual dissemination.

In addition to the intertidal surveys, we have undertaken trials to groundtruth inshore sub-littoral habitats using a drop-camera with lighting and cage array. The resulting high quality video footage of the seafloor is geographically referenced and we can analyse this footage to identify and map the extent of some seafloor habitats. The full method used follows the Mapping European Seabed Habitats (MESH) methodology (White et al., 2007).

Underpinning this survey effort, our training programme for local volunteers and students teaches survey techniques, GIS mapping, data analysis, evidence dissemination and habitat/species identification. These are all long-term, transferable skills.

Drop camera image of Laminaria bed. Image: Intertidal Discovery.

What do we know now?

We have only just started to analyse this amazing resource and given the detail we envisage this to be a lengthy process! However, an initial view has revealed superb examples of intertidal underboulder communities (a 2007 priority habitat) located around Cape Cornwall and St Ives, where iconic species such as stalked jellyfish (Lucernariopsis campanulata and Haliclystus auricula), light bulb sea squirts (Clavelina lepadiformis), and candy striped flatworms (Prostheceraeus vittatus) have all been found intertidally. The honeycomb worm (Sabellaria alveolata) has been extensively mapped around the Bude area, where only ad hoc records existed previously.

The surveys have revealed surprisingly large numbers of the strawberry anemone (Actinia fragacea), together with notable records for the bushy rainbow wrack (Cystoseira tamariscifolia) dominating rockpools, and the brown fork weed (Bifurcaria bifurcata) on open rock of the lower shore. This would appear to support suggestions from the previous MarClim ( study that these species could be among the ‘winners’ of climate change in the south-west (Hiscock et al., 2005).

Ultimately this baseline is already proving an extremely useful resource at a local level and we are looking at how outputs from this project can be used as a tool for marine planning, environmental monitoring, and decision-making. It is our hope that this project will inspire other nongovernmental organizations and public bodies to obtain much-needed baseline marine data, and to work together to collate vital evidence to underpin local and national marine conservation.

Survey approach. Image: Intertidal Discovery

Martin Goodall ( is the Data Manager for ERCCIS and Cornwall Wildlife Trust.


Hiscock K., Baker G., Crump A. and Jefferson R. (2005) Marine life topic note. Climate change and marine life around Britain and Ireland. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Sub-programme [online]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. Available from:

Wyn G., Brazier P., Birch K., Bunker A., Cooke A., Jones M., Lough N., McNath M. and Roberts S. (2006) Handbook for Marine Intertidal Phase 1 Biotope Mapping Survey. Countryside Council for Wales. ISBN: 1 86169 144 0.

White J., Mitchell A., Coggan R., Southern I. and Golding N. (2007) Seafloor video mapping: collection, analysis and interpretation of seafloor video footage for the purpose of habitat classification and mapping. MESH.

Box 1.

The Intertidal Discovery Project staff and volunteers have:

  • Surveyed over 32,000,000 m2 of intertidal habitat stretching 450 km (over 280 miles) along the entire north coast of Cornwall and accurately mapped 111 intertidal habitat types (including 32 HPI (Habitats of Principal Importance)/FOCI (Features of Conservation Interest) habitat types);
  • Discovered approximately 1,200 hectares of rocky habitats—of which 6.5% is HPI habitat (from 18 HPI habitat types) and found approximately 1,850 ha of sediment habitats—of which 24% is HPI habitat (from 14 HPI habitat types); 
  • Produced records of the location and extent of over 200 intertidal species (including data on invasives/non-natives species)

Box 2.

The legacy of the Intertidal Discovery project is:

  • Production of the first ever complete baseline of intertidal habitats in Cornwall;
  • Production of a comprehensive, interactive mapping portal (;
  • The provision of robust scientific data to marine planning authorities and statutory bodies;
  • Guides for technical and non-technical audiences (see the website for details on how to obtain guides);
  • The ability to train staff/volunteers in undertaking field surveys using mobile GIS technology;
  • Hundreds of volunteers trained in elements of marine fieldwork, surveying and data management.


Martin Goodall