A Bus(h) Mans Holiday – The Importance of Tides.

The sandy Cove

Those of you who know me well can testify that one of my main interest within Bushcraft is foraging! The idea of understanding the plant life we share our island with and how we can use it to sustain us, is an idea that has excited me since childhood. Now although I can profess only to be moderately competent with our most common inland flora (I still have a great deal to learn) I am all but a novice with our seashore wildlife and how this can sustain us.
This Blog will detail some of the interesting observations I made on my recent trip to the coast, as I tried to extend my knowledge on the plants and animals that live there and how I could go about using them for food.

As any happy go lucky, casual forager can tell you, going for a Sunday morning walk can sometimes produce some of the best foraging results. An unexpected wrong turn or a small adventure down an unknown path can sometimes turn up some real treasure troves of goodies. Unfortunately, this style of foraging is less successful on the coast simply due to the more ‘wild’ nature of coastal areas. The unwary or unprepared forager can expect a much less successful bounty for their efforts not to mention that fact that it can be downright dangerous to go wandering around the seashore without the appropriate clothing and understanding of the environment you are in.
One of the most obvious but none the less most important features of the seashore and one people often forget whilst on the sea front is –THE SEA! You don’t need me to tell you the horror stories of some of the tragic accidents that have occurred on from, unexpected weather fronts, to tides cutting families off from the beach, the coasts have different and new hazards than most people are not used to and the sea plays a big part in those new hazards.


tidal river

Quickly rising tidal river !!

kev fishing

Kev doing a spot of Bass fishing.

The importance of the sea and its tides were highlighted to me during my recent foraging excursion to Cornwall with one of my best friends Kev.

Everything was dictated to us by the tide;- Where could we forage? When could we forage? What creatures or plants we were likely to find? What equipment were we able to use? Literally everything.

For example, the activity of putting our crab pots or long lines out. If I put my line out at low tide which is 12:00 midday I would have to be there 12:30 at night to check them, which is not only impractical but also dangerous. Now a sensible person would say okay why not just wait until the low tide during the following day to inspect your catch however that would mean anything you caught would firstly be exposed at the first low tide , left to die a slow and horrible suffocating death and then would be covered over by the rising high tide and then revealed again at the next low tide when it could potentially have either been stolen by another predator who has now eaten your fishing tackle as well as your catch. Not good practice at all.

Much more efficient is to adapt your methods to the environment. For example if its high tide during light hours putting out a traditional rod and line can work wonders if done properly.  Similarly, if I want to find a certain type of creature and I know that it lives near the low tide mark I need to be at the low tide mark at the right time to have a chance at catching it.
This means knowing your tide times is an important business to the forager knowing when low tide is going to be and when high tide will be and how low the tide will recede and how high the tide is going to be is crucial!!

joe wading

Joe wading through the tidal river to access better hunting grounds!

First, it is important to understand that tides differ from beach to beach and indeed country to country so you will need local knowledge if you are planning a trip to a new beach. Low tide is when the sea has receded to its furthermost point, effectively this is where the most amount of beach will be exposed during the day. High tide is the opposite, this is when the sea travels up the beach until it reaches the high tide mark resulting in the most amount of beach  covered by sea. This is important information for the keen coastal forager to know, as the tide recedes towards the low tide mark more and more ‘hunting’ grounds become available for the various life that lives there.

Tides are created due to the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun to some effect. I’m not going to pretend that I understand the very complicated science and mathematics that govern tide times ( I did try and read up on it once and got a nose bleed as well as a headache). The very basics of the creation of tides are either down to the gravitational pull of the moon, or the spin of the earth, this causes the sea nearest to the moon to be attracted towards the moon and the sea opposite of the earth to be flung out due to the spin of the earth.

See the Diagram below. The tides are represented as the light blue oval.


There are many different types of tides, but generally in Britain, we tend to have almost 2 high tides and two low tides in a 24hr period.  I say almost because each high or low tide will lag the other by 12.5 hours. For example if the high tide was 1 am the next high tide wouldn’t be until 1:30 pm. This is only a rough guide however so always check with your local tide times.

To make matters even more confusing, the high tides and low tides can be extra high and extra low and fit into the lunar cycle accordingly.

Roughly every 14 days we have spring tides which are when the moon and the sun align, meaning that the gravitational pull is from both the  is in the same direction. When this happens the low tide will be extra low and the high tide will be extra high. Spring tides occur on a new moon (on the first day of the lunar cycle)  and at full moon, 14 days into the cycle.

Conversely, the exact opposite happens at half moon at both 7 days or 21 days, the moon and the sun are exactly at 90 degrees to each other so counteract each other. These are called neap tides where the low tide isn’t that low and the high tide isn’t as high as it normally would be.

I hope this has helped explain how important tides are to the coastal forager and I actively encourage anybody to spend some time coastal foraging and just observe how much of your daily routine is dictated by the tide times changing. Literally, every day is different, some days you can’t do the activity you did yesterday because the tides continuously change the available foraging grounds.

It truly is a thrilling experience living in harmony with the environment and using the natural patterns to sustain yourself.







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