2014 has certainly arrived with a bang as storm after storm has queued up across the Atlantic to batter our coastline, writes Dorset Wildlife Trust marine awareness officer Julie Hatcher. Strong and prolonged south-westerly winds have whipped up the waves into a frenzy, crashing them against cliffs and shores. They have also brought with them a variety of long distance mariners, some not seen in Dorset, or even the UK, for many a year, if, in fact, ever.

Now is the ideal time to search for unusual marine life treasures carried in from distant shores or the open ocean. Beachcombing can be an addictive pleasure, strolling along deserted shorelines, over-dosing on fresh sea air and exulting in the discovery of some rare, exotic find.

Any regular beach walker will be familiar with common ‘finds’ thrown up on our strandlines, such as white cuttlefish bones and leathery mermaid’s purses.

However it’s those rare discoveries that make beach-combing really exciting – a tropical sea bean carried across the ocean from South America, still capable of germinating if conditions are right, or a clump of goose barnacles attached by their flexible, worm-like necks to a driftwood log or plastic fishing buoy using a feathery net to snare plankton for dinner.

Once washed ashore they will quickly dry out and die.

While litter travelling from the high seas may pick up goose barnacle hitch-hikers, some of the fishing litter currently arriving on our beaches – fish boxes, buoys, bait pots, ropes and netting – have clearly completed a much longer voyage from the shores of North America. Some of these, found at Chesil Beach and Kimmeridge, have carried more exotic animals to our shores. The American ivory barnacle and jingle shell have been among the discoveries made this year and are probably the first records in the UK for these species.

Another exciting visitor was the Columbus crab which lives a nomadic life-style, hitching a ride on floating debris and travelling the oceans from its origin in the Sargasso Sea, never to set foot on land. Learn more about marine life at dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/wellyzone