AS we become more aware of our impact on the nature it is even more important, we understand about our local wildlife and its ecology.

What species are present and where? What are causing any changes?

Scientists rely on large datasets to explain many of these changes and an increasingly useful way of collecting these data is to work with ordinary citizens.

The Somerset Wildlife Trust has launched several new citizen science surveys along our coastline as part of the Somerset’s Brilliant Coast Project (funded by HPC Community Mitigation Fund and the National Trust).

Sea Watch Surveys: these monthly surveys of porpoises, seals and dolphins are organised with the Sea Watch Foundation.

Volunteers meet on headlands along the Somerset coast and survey the sea for a two hour period.

The main sightings are of porpoises. They are most commonly spotted in Porlock Bay, especially in the summer, but they are probably equally common in the winter and at many other locations.

Although individual records exist right up the Channel, we have never looked systematically and so we don’t really know.

This is one of the reasons for these surveys.

Other species such as dolphins and seals are less common, but sightings have been made.

Knowing about these populations is important because as top predators their numbers can be affected by overfishing as well as through being caught as ‘by-catch’.

Their sensitive echo-location systems are also affected by underwater noise pollution such as is made during the construction of offshore wind farms.

The Somerset Wildlife Trust has also been doing ShoreSearch surveys, which are part of a national citizen science project to monitor intertidal organisms.

Surveys take place on different beaches throughout the year, using a team of enthusiastic volunteers and experts.

Although Somerset’s rocky shores may at first not seem as spectacular as those of Devon and Cornwall, locations such as the boulder shore and its fringing kelp forest at Gore Point, near Porlock, have a diversity of species of snails, sea slugs, crabs and seaweeds.

Further east the huge tidal range of the Bristol Channel and its gradually changing salinity and silt load mean that many interesting changes in species can be described.

Somerset also has some unusual habitats like the extensive reefs of the honeycomb worm found between Minehead and Stolford.

In the surveys quadrats (square frames) are placed within defined areas on the shore and all the species in each quadrat are identified and counted.

GPS mapping is done so that the areas can be revisited each year to show any changes.

The data being collected is building a much richer picture of these intertidal habitats than we have had before.

n To take part in any of these surveys visit the Somerset Wildlife Trust website or email