Can You take Pebbles from the Beach? – A Helpful Guide

  • By: Carlo
  • Date: October 21, 2021
  • Time to read: 6 min.

What better way to remember a beautiful time in Brighton than by taking a small part of it away with you. Every year thousands upon thousands of Brighton pebbles are removed from the beach by joyful visitors wanting to capitulate a memorable moment in an object. But Is it legal? Read on as we take a closer look into the matter.

Can you take pebbles from the Beach? According to a special provision for Scotland in the Coastal Protection Act of 1949, it is “unlawful” to remove any materials on, under, or forming part of any portion of the seashore. For the rest of the UK, no specifications are made.

This probably sounded alien to
you, so let’s break it down a bit.

The Coastal Protection act of 1949 is a set of laws which intend to act “against the erosion and encroachment by the sea” and contains regulations about activities taken in the seashore. Under this, it is clearly stated that in Scotland, any dislocation of materials is against the law no matter the amount of it. This means that you can be a fault just by taking just one pebble from Brighton beach.

On
the bright side though, as far as the rest of the UK is concerned, (including
amidst our beloved Brighton), the occasional visitor or the permanent
inhabitant could theoretically keep on exercising the ever more popular
act of “beachcombing”, without worrying much about the police (I would suggest
to keep it moderate, don’t show up with a bulldoze at Brighton beach).

Is the Pebble Stealing Law Enforced? or Can I Take them Anyway?

The existence of a law doesn’t necessarily constitute a discouraging fact. There is a multitude of laws that remain only “on paper” and stay for years unimplemented. Policemen have more serious crimes to solve than prosecuting people taking pebbles, right?

Well, apparently, taking pebbles from Brighton, or any UK beach must be taken more seriously than one might suspect; because, even outside Scotland, there is a far from a trivial amount of cases in the UK where people have got in trouble for taking pebbles from our beaches.

According to an article in the Telegraph newspaper in August 2018, a poor man was forced to drive back all the way to Cornwall to return some pebbles that he took from Crackington Haven. To the local government’s defence, they were pretty explicit about being against such acts, since they had put on a not-insignificant amount of signs in the beach (with some people in Cornwall claiming that they might be too explicit about it, criticising the aesthetically unpleasing number of signs); and considering the fact that the removal of materials can reach a fine of £1000, the man was almost lucky.

In a different corner of the “Old Albion”, specifically in Felixstowe, a woman was reported to have been given a police warning, after being caught taking pebbles from the beach. In her case though, six bags of pebbles. She was also lucky enough to get away with it with a mere warning

So I think that we closed our
case as far as pebbles are concerned. Pebbles are out of the question, they
stay where they are, loud and clear. But an innocent piece of sea-glass, which
by the way is artificial, is within limits, right? And what about shells? Or some
sand to put in a jar with a label “Cornwall” on it?

Is it Illegal to Remove Sea-Glass, Sand, or Shells from the Beaches in the UK?

First of all, for those who
haven’t spent much time in coasts, sea-glass comes from fragmented beer, or
other types of beverages bottles, that people once enjoyed near the camp-fire
and left them there to litter the seashore. Nevertheless, these fragments,
laying there for over 20-30 years have acquired a certain “unprocessed” look
and smooth edges and people love to adorn their balconies with them.

So, as far as sea-glass-combing, no law is against it, you are good to go (Literally, of the beach with it on your person). Plus, you will find more than enough pages with tips about where to find the smoothest sea-glass and how to turn it into beautiful pieces of jewellery.  

As far as shells are concerned, the answer is also yes, provided that no living organisms are inhabiting the shell you spotted.

Can you take Sand from the beach? You can not legally take sand from the beach as you would be contributing (even if only in a small way) towards the weakening of the defensive barrier the beach provides from the sea to the land.

Sand is off-limits though.
Sand is subjected to the exact same law (remember the coastal protection act we
discussed previously?) and thus it is illegal to remove any amount of sand from
beaches.

The question that might have
arisen so far is why? Why is it illegal and why are the authorities so strict
about it? Who will be harmed if I take a small souvenir direct from mother
Earth? Well, the environment and also yourselves!

Is it Harmful to the Environment to Remove Pebbles/ Sand/ Shells from the Beach?

Well not quite harmful, but a systematic removal of pebbles can cause serious problems in cities. Pebbles constitute a natural sea-defence, breaking the formation of big waves. If this breaking is obstructed and waves keep building up to their full force, there is a danger of serious floods, which can cause damages of millions to coastal areas. With loads of tourists visiting seashore destinations, even a small amount can make an impact.

As far as sand is concerned,
the thing gets even more serious. Collecting sand has a direct effect over the
local fauna and the removing of sand can cause long term decrease or even
extinction of wild-life populations that depend on sand beaches for hatching
their eggs.

But a far more disturbing finding of some recent researches is that although we perceive sand as something endless, we are actually running out of sand. As with many natural resources, we spent far more than it is being annually produced.

Finally, collecting shells isn’t so harmless either. Seashells are an indispensable part of our coastal ecosystems since they are home for a variety of other marine microorganisms (seagrass, sponge etc), they are hiding places for fishes trying to escape predators, they provide materials for birds’ nests, and hermit crabs use them as temporary refuges. Thus, the removal of shells and shell fragments can potentially cause coastline erosion.

So, we talked thoroughly about
the UK but let’s be honest there are more exotic destinations, with fancier
pebbles and more impressive shells. (I am sorry, but it is true, and you know
it). And that leads us inevitably in wondering:

Can I take Pebbles and other Objects as Souvenirs from other Beaches?

A general rule would be: NO, don’t
take anything.

First and foremost, is figuring out, is what the law in the UK is kind of obscure and hard to pin down, a different country’s policy can be doubly hard to figure out and that makes each local community’s reaction more unpredictable. Don’t mess with that during your vacation.

A few examples of Famous Summer Seashore Destinations speak for themselves.

A German tourist was imprisoned in Turkey after a rock was discovered in his luggage by the airport authorities. The reason behind it was that Turkey has a very strict policy when it comes to its Cultural Heritage and the man had no way of proving that this rock didn’t belong to an archaeological site. 

“Take a picture, not a pebble- save Lalaria beach,” says a sign in the infamous white-pebble beach in the Greek island Skiathos, where the inhabitants noticed a significant decrease in the beach’s signature white stones. This forced authorities to take action and a fine for being caught taking a rock was introduced, varying from (£354 – £885 pounds).

It is also illegal to remove
any sea-glass from the glass-beaches in Fort Braggs, California. To those
beaches -former garbage dumps, where the glass smoothed as years went by- sea-glass
is the signature material and for this reason illegal to take it with you
leaving.

In Sardinia the situation is not less dramatic since after so many confiscations of sand in Italian airports, removing even small amounts is punishable with a fine of €580 to €3.000 euros (£442 to £2656 pounds).

Last but not least, there is the case of Boracay, an island belonging to the Philippinian island complex, where you cannot even collect the sand facing a fine of €58 (£51) to 3 months in prison.

Conclusion

Come visit Brighton and enjoy our beaches, keep the beautiful memories you make here, but leave the beach as you found it. That means without taking away the beach pebbles. (Take away your litter instead ; )

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