North East England

White-beaked dolphinWhite-beaked dolphin - Credit Martin Kitching (www.northernexperienceimages.co.uk)

The Great North Eastern Rocky Reef

This rocky reef stretches along the Northumberland coast for miles, providing habitat for a massive array of life including deeplet sea anemones, light bulb sea squirts, edible sea urchins, bottle brush hydroids and several species of fish, including lumpsuckers, pollock, leopard spotted goby, brightly coloured cuckoo wrasse and the fearsome looking wolf-fish. The Farne Islands, lying off the Northumberland coast are the only rocky islands off the English North Sea coast and contain the clearest water and most extensive areas of rocky reef in the North Sea. The islands are National Nature Reserves, well known for their seabird and Atlantic grey seal populations. The waters are also designated as Marine Special Areas of Conservation.

The waters off the North coast are also home to a range of mystery and diversity, in the form of a maze of underwater gullies, cliffs and sea caves. These rocky areas, dangerous for shipping, contain the remains of many wrecks. Extensive kelp forests growing out from the rocky seabed provide an important feeding ground for grey seals, of which the Farne Islands contains three-quarters of the English population (3,600 individuals). Further offshore are great beds of venus clams, mackerel spawning and thornback ray hunting grounds.

Rocky Reef - dead mans fingers. Credit: Ricahrd Shucksmith                                             Rocky reef - Richard Shucksmith

Kelp Forests

One of the key marine features within the North-East and Yorkshire region of the North Sea are the presence of extensive kelp forests, which provide nursery and feeding grounds for a wide range of marine species. These underwater rainforests are one of the most productive ecosystems in temperate waters. They consist of hundreds of individual brown seaweeds attached to hard and rocky seabeds. Individual plants stand tall on the rocks, stretching up into the water column like small trees. Kelp is found in waters where there is a hard substrata to attach to and high levels of nutrients and light. Kelp forests provide food and shelter for many marine species, such as herbivorous urchins which graze and feed on the kelp. The high presence of fish life here, sheltering between the long brown fronds also makes kelp forests primary feeding grounds for grey seals.

Kelp gully - credit Mark Thomas
                                                            Kelp gully - Mark Thomas