Intertidal sand and muddy sand

Sandy seashores

Sandy seashore © Amy Ridgeway

Sandy shores are made up of clean or muddy sand and may have shells and stones on the surface.   Their surface may be a mass of ripples, as a result of wave action or tidal currents. 

Sandy beaches change a lot during the year, building up in the summer before being eroded back by winter storms.  The sand is often coarser in winter too, as the stronger wave action prevents the finer particles from settling onto the seabed.  Muddy sand is found in the more sheltered areas of bays and estuaries, and is likely to be much less mobile.

Sandy shores often appear devoid of marine life.  The biggest problem faced by animals and plants living between the tides is drying out when the tide is out.  The safest place to live on a sandy shore is, therefore, buried in the damp sand.  On all but the most barren sandy shores, there will be different kinds of worms just beneath the surface.  The strandline of seaweed and other debris left behind at the top of the shore by the falling tide is also home to creatures including shrimp-like sandhoppers.  Muddier sands support hinged-shelled bivalves, including the common cockle, and sea snails like the laver spire shell.  While seaweeds tend to be scarce, the green sea lettuce is also found on some muddy sand shores.

For the official habitat definition please see the documents listed below.


European distribution

Sandy shores are widespread along stretches of open coast around the British Isles and north-west Europe, whilst muddy sands are usually found in more sheltered areas such as estuaries.

Sandy Seashores Fact


Official habitat definition

EUNIS habitat A2.2 Littoral sand and muddy sand


Further information

JNCC Marine Habitat Classification

JNCC EUNIS habitat correlations table