Can You Pick Mussels Off the Beach in the UK?

Can You Pick Mussels Off the Beach in the UK?

Yes, you can pick mussels off the beach in the UK.

However, you need to be very cautious!

In the UK, the general rule of thumb is that you should avoid harvesting them during any month that doesn’t have an ‘r’ in it.

So, refrain from collecting them in the warmer months of May, June, July and August.

The reason for this is that algal blooms are more likely to be present during these summer months and as mussels are filter feeders, they can ingest these algae, which can be toxic to humans if we then go on to eat them.

The 5 golden bivalve rules

These are unashamedly stolen from John Right’s book – Edible Seashore and are a great set of rules to keep in mind when foraging for filter feeders (bivalves).

It’s also a great book to grab if you have an interest in coastal foraging.

1. Consult the locals

Talk to local fishermen and check with local authorities about the water quality in the area where you are looking to pick mussels.

2. Only collect from obviously clean areas

This sounds fairly obvious, but it needs to be said…don’t collect from narrow estuaries, harbours, marinas, or outflow pipes.

Mussels are filter feeders, so use your common sense on this one.

3. Avoid months that lack an ‘r’

Whilst not relevant to every situation, this rule does have good reasoning behind it.

If the month doesn’t have an r in its name, then it is one of the summer months and is when the mussels are most active (filtering lots of water), as well as the warmer water causing algal blooms and more bacteria being in the water.

As mussels are filter feeders, the above does not exactly help matters.

The mussels are also not at their peak condition at this time of year, so all things considered this old adage has a bit of truth behind it and you are usually best off waiting for the cooler months (with an ‘r’ in).

4. Always thoroughly cook the mussels

Unless you are 100% certain that your mussels have come from grade A waters, the only way of being sure that you have killed all bacteria and viruses is the cook the mussels thoroughly.

Cooking will not however remove any algal toxins, which is why you need to be very careful about the time of year you collect and know the waters.

Simply put, don’t eat mussels raw unless you are 100% sure of the water quality and even then you are risking it.

Cooking your mussels minimises the risk.

5. Always check for signs of life before cooking

Check that the mussels shut when you tap them on the side of the cooking pot. If not discard.

Equally, once cooked, only eat the ones that have their shells open.

Can you take mussels from the beach legally?

Yes, as long as local bylaws allow, you can take mussels from the beach in England and Wales without having to worry too much about permissions.

You still need to make sure that you collect them from an area where they are regularly covered by the tide (known as the intertidal zone), and ensure that the water quality is good before harvesting.

It gets a bit more complicated in Scotland as technically all mussels are owned by the Crown.

If you are following the rules, then you should seek permission from the Crown Estate before gathering them.

In reality, if you are just harvesting mussels for your own use, then you are very unlikely to find yourself in trouble and the collecting of wild mussels for personal use is generally tolerated.

Oysters are a different matter though, so it may be a good idea to follow the rules in Scotland if you are collecting these.

How do you harvest wild mussels?

Check with your local authority to see if any kind of license is needed.

Once you know you have permission and once you have found some, whether that be on some rocks or other structure, it’s as easy as getting hold of one and gently twisting it off.

Try not to dislodge the others in the process and just select the mussels that you want.

Is there a size limit on mussels?

This varies depending on the area and local authority, but generally speaking, the minimum in the UK is 45mm, which should be taken along the longest section of the shell.

Any smaller than this and you are damaging the next mussel generation and there is not going to be much meat inside either, so keep your collecting to the adult sizes.

How do you clean mussels from the beach?

An alternative method for processing mussels is soaking them in salt water for 20 minutes and then discarding any that float to the surface.

As mentioned below though, live mussels can potentially have air trapped in them, so this method errs very much on the side of caution.

You can then also tap any open mussels on the side of the pan/bucket etc and they should close up.

If not, then they are dead and should be discarded.

From here you can then use a knife or similar utensil to pull the mussel beards away, leaving you will some nice, clean mussels ready for cooking.

Are some mussels poisonous?

They can be if they are filtering in unclean water and have picked up toxins.

This is why you need to be confident of the water quality in which the mussels that you are collecting have been living in.

Are mussels a healthy seafood to eat?

Yes. Mussels are considered a healthy seafood to eat.

They contain many beneficial vitamins and minerals including:

> Protein – Mussels are a high-quality, high-protein food, with similar levels to that of red meat.

> Iron – Mussels contain a healthy dose of iron, which is known to be good for your blood system.

> Vitamin A – which is great for your skin, immune system and eyes.

> B12 – an essential vitamin for your heart and overall health.

So yes, all in all, mussels are a great addition to your diet and have many health benefits.

How can you tell if mussels are fresh?

Assuming you have collected them from a clean water area, then follow the below.

If any float discard them and then tap any open mussels on the side of the pan/bowl and they should close. If not, discard these also.

Once cooked, eat only the mussels that have fully opened.

If you follow the above you shouldn’t go too far wrong, but do make sure to check out the 5 golden rules towards the top of this article.

Can you pick mussels off rocks?

Yes, you can pick mussels off the rocks; that is where you are most likely to find them.

One of the best times to collect them is a low spring tide when the water drops considerably.

You obviously need to be very wary of your surroundings though and take all necessary precautions.

Can you pick mussels in June? Can you eat mussels in the summer?

Although you technically can pick mussels in June in the UK, it is not advisable.

Remember the advice of not picking mussels when there isn’t an R in the month. So May to August.

The reason for this is that the mussels are generally in poorer condition due to spawning during the summer months, as well as the warmer weather usually bringing in the algal blooms.

These can then be taken in by the mussels filtering system, with the risk of this toxicity then being passed on to you when you eat them.

It must be said that this risk is low, but it is a risk all the same.

So the safest bet is to keep it to the colder months when the mussels are in better condition and the algal blooms have disappeared.

Do mussels float in water? Should I discard mussels that float?

They can do if they have air trapped in them, however, they will usually sink.

There is an old method of checking mussels whereby they were soaked in water and if they floated they were discarded as they were thought to be dead, but as you can see, this is not always the case.

Live mussels can float too.

This does provide a belt and braces approach though.

How do you open mussels?

If you want to open up live mussels for cooking via an alternative method, such as frying them etc, then, as long as they are large enough, you can open them up with a knife as shown in the video below

Summary

Can You Pick Mussels Off the Beach in the UK? Yes, you can! But you need to be aware of the risks.

Follow the 5 Golden bivalve rules above and treat your harvest with care and you shouldn’t go too far wrong.

If you are interested in coastal foraging, then be sure to also check out our popular article on Limpets, which can be found here.

Also, I would recommend taking a look at John Wight’s book (River Cottage), Edible Seashore.

It has lots more info and facts for the coastal forager to get their teeth into.

You can find a copy here.

Other mussel FAQs

Do you eat the whole inside of a mussel?

Yes, you can eat the whole inside of a mussel. Even the black bit!

All of the insides are edible, so, as long as the mussel is fresh, don’t think too much about it and enjoy the flavours.

What is the black stuff in a mussel?

The ‘black sack’ is the undigested plankton and other microscopic creatures that are still within the mussel’s digestive tract.

As long as you are collecting from a clean area, then this black stuff is perfectly safe to eat and just adds to the flavour.

Don’t think about it too much and get stuck in!

Are mussels freshwater or saltwater?

In the UK, there are both freshwater and saltwater varieties, although similar, they are different species.

Saltwater mussels (Mytilus edulis) are usually found on rocky shores, submerged structures and occasionally attached to seaweed.

This article focuses on the saltwater variety (UK).

There are however multiple freshwater mussel varieties in the UK.

These being:

> Duck Mussel (Anodonta anatina)

> Swan Mussel (Anodonta cygnea)

> Painter’s Mussel (Unio pictorum)

For more info on the freshwater mussel varieties (UK) the Nature Spot site has some good info here.

Is it cruel to cook mussels alive? Do mussels feel pain?

This is a matter of opinion.

Although some would argue that it is cruel to cook anything alive, the fact is that unless you intend to eat them raw (in which you will kill them by eating), in order to eat them in the standard way, you need to cook them somehow.

What happens if you eat mussel beard?

Nothing happens! Mussel beard is edible, if not that tasty, so don’t worry if you eat any.

However, the best bet is to clean them off beforehand.

Do mussels have eyes?

No mussels do not have eyes as such, but they are thought to have sensors that can tell the difference between light and dark, so as to be able to close up if they feel threatened.

Disclaimer:

Collecting mussels bring with it it’s own set of dangers, both from the environmental conditions, such as tides, wind, sun etc as well as the risk of getting it wrong and giving yourself food poisoning etc.

Please treat the above as a general guide only and cross reference with other trusted information sources, before you harvest and eat any mussels.

When is Samphire in Season in the UK?

When is samphire in season in the uk?

Marsh Samphire is in season in the UK between the months of June and September, although it may vary slightly depending on your location.

Midsummer’s Day is the traditional start of the samphire picking season.

There are thought to be a few different varieties of Marsh Samphire in the UK, the most common type you will find is the bright-green Salicornia europaea.

If the Marsh Samphire you are collecting has a purple tinge to it, it may well be the variety Salicornia ramosissima.

Both varieties are edible and tasty.

How to collect Marsh Samphire

It is technically illegal to uproot samphire without permission.

You don’t want to do this anyway, as you don’t eat the root of the plant, only the tips.

Uprooting also damages the habitat, so please try not to do this.

Take some robust scissors with you and snip the tender tops off of the plant and store them in a basket or bag.

Other than paying attention to the safety aspect of being out on the marshes, it’s as simple as finding a decent patch and snipping off the tops.

Although you can store it, like with all wild foods, only take what you need.

You can always come back another day!

Is samphire available all year round?

No, as above its season runs from approx June through to September.

Outside of these months, samphire disappears, usually with the frosts in autumn.

You may be able to purchase samphire in the shops outside of the traditional UK growing season, but this will likely have come from abroad.

Does samphire grow in the UK?

Yes. Marsh Samphire grows all around coastal areas of the UK that have salt marshes and mudflats.

It is quite prolific around Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Wales.

Is samphire good for your health? How healthy is samphire?

Yes. Marsh Samphire contains a number of vitamins minerals and antioxidants that are considered to be especially good for your health.

These include minerals magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium, along with vitamins A, B and C.

Samphire also contains fucoidans, which are anti-inflammatory and have antioxidant effects.

Do I need to cook samphire?

No, you do not need to cook Marsh Samphire. It can be eaten raw. However, it is also very tasty when cooked.

Steaming for around 5 minutes is the best way to cook samphire.

Once served, it benefits from having a dob of butter melted over it, but is by no means essential.

If you have a younger plant, or just have the more tender tips, then you can just eat whole and enjoy.

If you have a more mature plant, you will find that they have a stringy/woody middle section along most of their length.

You can easily deal with this by running the steamed samphire through your front teeth while holding on to the base.

This strips off all the tender flesh and leaves you with the stringy fibrous part in your hand which can be discarded.

Can I eat samphire raw? Can you eat samphire cold?

Yes, Marsh Samphire can be eaten raw (cold).

If you are going to eat it raw, make sure you go for the tips of the plant only, as these won’t have the stringy central fibre in them.

You can eat there and then, on the marsh, or save for later.

One of the best ways to consume samphire tips is to add them to a fresh salad.

The samphire gives the salad a new dimension, of saltiness and iodine, but you can overdo it, so just use a few.

Is all samphire edible? Can you eat rock samphire?

In the UK, both types of samphire are technically edible, these being Marsh Samphire which we are discussing here and Rock Samphire.

Although linked by name, they are actually a very different plant and species.

Marsh Samphire usually being the variety (Salicornia europaea) and rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum).

However, although Rock Samphire is deemed edible, most will not like the flavour as it contains aromatic chemicals, one of which is pinene, which is an ingredient of turpentine, hence why it tastes so awful!!!

If you are after good samphire for eating, go for Marsh Samphire, as this is the variety that is known for its culinary credentials.

Is samphire a seaweed?

No, samphire is not a seaweed.

It is actually a member of the goosefoot family, and looks more like a small cactus without the spines!

Marsh samphire generally grows on tidal mudflats, sometimes quite prolifically, and looks quite different to seaweed.

This extremely meditative video from Andy Ballard shows him foraging for Marsh Samphire on the Bristol Channel.

Does samphire taste like seaweed?

No, samphire does not taste like seaweed. It has its own flavour, which is actually very pleasant.

It’s more like salty asparagus, which is delicious, but the salt can be overpowering if you eat too much of it, so take it steady.

How many calories does samphire have?

Samphire contains around 25 calories per 100 grams consumed.

This is for samphire when served on its own, such as when steamed/boiled or eaten raw.

If adding other ingredients, then this will obviously change accordingly.

How many carbs are in samphire?

Samphire contains around 1.5g carbohydrate per 100 grams consumed, which is pretty much made up of dietary fibre.

Therefore, there are hardly any carbs in Marsh Samphire.

Is samphire the same as sea asparagus?

Yes, in other parts of the world, Marsh Samphire is known as sea asparagus.

In other locations, it is also known as samphire greens, sea beans, crow’s foot greens and beach asparagus.

Does samphire have iodine? Is samphire high in iodine?

Yes, samphire does contain iodine.

However, it doesn’t contain anywhere near as much as some seaweeds do, so samphire wouldn’t be classed as high in iodine as seaweed – although it’s a pretty decent level.

For comparison, samphire contains approx 90 micrograms per 100 grams.

Some seaweed contains approx 250,000 micrograms per 100 grams.

However, it must be noted that adults recommended daily iodine intake is 140 micrograms per day, so a decent portion would easily get you up to this.

Does samphire contain iron?

Yes, samphire contains iron. It also contains vitamin C and calcium.

Samphire also contains antioxidants, which in combination with the other vitamins and minerals make it an extremely healthy plant to eat and a great addition to your diet.

Summary

So, when is samphire in season in the UK?

Usually between the months of June and September. with Midsummer’s Day being the traditional start of the season.

Keen to pick up some more free foraging goodness???

Take a look at our foraging section for more articles on such things as limpets and gorse flower.

Common Limpet Foraging – The Ultimate Guide

Common Limpet - Coastal Bushcraft Foraging

Found on rocky shorelines across the UK, the common limpet is an almost guaranteed find for the shoreline hunter and is a handy addition to any foraging trip. 

With that in mind, let’s look at some limpet facts…

What are limpets?

Limpets are small, cone-shaped creatures that live on rocks in the inter-tidal zone.

They are usually spotted at low tide clamped to rocks and should you try and pick one up, will nearly always clamp down and become immovable. They are seriously impressive in this regard.

In this clamped state, they don’t really do a lot, but once the tide returns, and they have submerged once again, they ‘spring to life’ and start going about their business of feeding on their chosen home.

There are two main types to be found in Britain, the common limpet and the slipper limpet.

Today we will focus on the common limpet.

What is the scientific name for limpets?

The scientific name for the common limpet is patella vulgata.

Patella vulgata are the European common limpets and as the name suggests – are of the Patella genus

These are marine gastropod molluscs and are in the Patellidae family.

Can you eat common limpets? Are common limpets edible?

Yes, you can eat common limpets providing you follow the advice below.

Although I can say with confidence that there are certainly tastier wild treats to be had, the limpet is certainly worth knowing about from a wild food perspective, even if that said food does sometimes resemble the texture of pencil rubbers.

Are limpets healthy to eat?

Yes, as long as they were a healthy limpet when you collected them and you have stored and prepared them correctly, limpets are a high protein snack, with many many other vitamins and minerals to boot.

Do limpets have eyes?

Yes, the common limpet has a left and a right ‘eye‘, but there is little research on what they can actually view with these.

They also have two antennae for feeling their way around and sensing. The combination of the two helps them build up a picture of what is around them when hunting for food.

Can limpets swim?

Juvenile limpets spend the first part of their lives as free-swimming planktonic creatures and therefore do technically swim.

Once they mature though, they find a home that they like and stay put.

Fully grown limpets do not swim. They use their foot to travel across surfaces.

Where are limpet shells found?

The common limpet can be found in coastal areas all over the British Isles

They are not usually hard to find and are generally located in shallow water, on rocks or cliffs that are within the intertidal zone.

What is unique about the intertidal coastline?

The intertidal coastline or intertidal zone is unique in the fact that it is submerged by seawater around 2 times a day.

It is essentially the section of shoreline that is between the high and low watermark.

This area is fully submerged at high tide and then dry again at low tide.

Creatures and plants must therefore be able to survive in both of these states.

This makes for a special environment that supports many different creatures including limpets, starfish, sea anemones, sea stars, mussels, winkles, crabs and many more.

How do you identify a limpet?

What does a limpet look like?

The common limpet is cone-shaped and easy to identify. There will often be many limpets attached to one rock, in varying sizes.

Their shape and ability to tightly attach themselves to rocks allows them to remain in place – even whilst getting pounded by strong waves.

What do limpets eat?

At high tide, the limpet feeds by slowly moving around its chosen rock, feeding on algae and similar vegetative marine life.

Although classed as herbivores, they are also thought to eat small creatures like young barnacles etc.

Do limpets bite?

No, well they wont bite you anyway.

Limpets have a super tongue which they use to feed with. This is known as a radula.

The radula is similar to a tongue, but has rows of tiny ‘teeth’ attached.

As you can probably imagine, this radula is extremely tough, as it needs to be able to scrape food off rocks when feeding.

Indeed, UK engineers discovered that the teeth attached to this are made from the toughest biological material that has ever been tested.

Impressive stuff!

Limpets will generally stay in a localised area and not stray too far from their home, which they will always come back to when the tide goes back out.

Over time, this can cause an indentation on the rock which is known as a ‘home scar’. 

The limpet clamps down on this section of rock, using its powerful ‘foot’ and remains there until the tide comes back in and it’s ready to move and feed again.

How do you forage for limpets?

Common limpet collected in bucket - Seaweed - common limpet foraging
A little seaweed and water helps keep the limpets fresh

Common Limpets can be collected all year round.

Ensure that the area you intend to forage from has a regular and strong tide to ensure that the limpets are regularly submerged.

Also, check that the local area has good water quality and is free from pollutants.

The common limpet is an important part of the ecosystem, keeping the rock’s algal growth in check.

It is vital therefore that you do not gather too many from one area, as an imbalance can occur.

Good practice would be to take only one from each rock or immediate area, leaving the others to carry on their good work.

If there is only one on a rock, then leave it be. Do not over-collect in one area.

Fill your bucket or collecting vessel with fresh seawater and place some carefully collected seaweed in as well if available.

This will help to keep your limpets fresh.

How do you remove limpets from rocks?

A variety of tools can be used to prize the limpet away, including an old chisel or sharp implement such as a knife etc, but a rock will usually do and is usually readily available.

One thing to know when collecting limpets is that you only really get one good chance at them.

Although they will be stuck to the rock when you approach them, they are not usually ‘fully clamped’.

A sharp whack from one side will usually dislodge them.

If you do not manage to dislodge them on the first whack, or they sense you coming, they will fully clamp down on the rock and you will have a hard time getting them off the rock, no matter how hard you try.

They are unbelievably strong.

You can follow up with a second strike very shortly after the first one, but if this fails, leave them alone or you risk damaging them, as they will now have fully clamped down.

Your best bet is to go and find another to work on.

When collecting them myself, I generally have one hand holding the dislodging rock and my other hand is placed on the opposite side of the limpet, ready to catch the dislodged morsel before it disappears into the brine below.

In a good area, it is not hard to quickly collect a bucketful. Remember, do not take more than you need.

If your camp is based nearby, you can always return if necessary, or visit another spot.

Can you eat a limpet raw?

The common limpet is edible and can be eaten raw, but you’re probably going to want to cook it.

Check that the limpet is still alive, especially if it has been a while since collection.

You will see it moving, so it’s not hard to check this. 

Are limpets tasty?

I’m going to get straight to the point here and say that limpets probably aren’t going to on your top 10 list of bushcraft cuisine.

The fact is that they are usually chewy, really chewy – no matter what you do to them!

The flavour isn’t bad, it’s like a chewy mussle, but the texture isn’t always great – well never great actually!

Some say not to cook them for too long, but they seem to be chewy whatever you do to them, so just expect that to be the case.

One way to combat the chewiness is to finely chop them and add them to other dishes so that they are more easily consumed.

This can be done after they are cooked and then added to a curry or stew etc.

They will certainly add a new dimension to the dish!

Caveats aside, they are definitely worth a try and can form a great addition to other foods if prepared in a certain way.

If you want to cook them on their own, try cooking them upside down, straight on the embers of your fire.

If you have the luxury, try adding some olive oil and some garlic to add some flavour and cook until the oil starts to bubble.

Remove from the shell, remove the black part if you wish and enjoy.

I can guarantee you will remember the experience.

What does limpet taste like?

Limpets have a taste of their own, but to give you a rough idea – they taste a bit like a chewier version of a mussle and are equally sweet in taste.

Can you fry limpets?

Yes. You can fry them in their shells, or for a more direct method, you can remove them from their shells, tenderise them with a meat hammer or similar and then fry.

You can fry them as is, or coat them in a flour mixture first, depending on your preference.

Safety whilst common limpet foraging

As with all foraging, there is a degree of risk involved.

Coastal foraging brings additional dangers.

Apart from the food safety side that is mentioned above, the actual collection part can be risky in itself.

You are usually stepping on or wading through rocky areas when foraging, contending with slippy, jagged surfaces and possibly waves.

Common sense goes a long way here.

Take great care with your foot placement and move slowly and deliberately.

A wading stick may prove useful.

Wear appropriate footwear, something that will protect your feet from the sharp rocks and provide you with some grip.

Avoid standing on rocks with a slimy green surface. The last thing you want is a fall in this environment.

Be aware of the tides. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the moment, only to realise that the tide is a lot higher than you thought, with your access back to dry land now cut off.

As with most things, preparation is key here.

Plan your route and enjoy the forage!

James

Bushcraft Hub

What’s your favourite way to eat limpets?

Let us know in the comments below.