The perfect souvenir, enshrining the unique layers of rock and stone compressed over millions of years, hardened and broken, tumbled and polished into little muted gems scattered across the coastlines of Britains beaches. Rocks, we’re talking about rocks. Whatever you’re into, there’s something about the pebbles crunched over along the shore that makes you want to keep them. They serve as a pocket-sized memento from a seaside holiday, or as building blocks for a garden rockery.

But your beautifully arranged lawn feature comes with a hefty environmental burden. More than just part of the serene coastal landscape; rocks, shingle, stones, and pebbles serve as vital flood defences and barriers to coastal erosion that prevent the sea encroaching onto land and washing away its foundations, as well as forming wildlife habitats. While decay is a natural part of coastlines and integral to making the stones we are all transfixed by, the unnatural erosion created by our eager pocketing speeds up the process that residents with houses across the shoreline are rightly keen to avoid. While picking up a stone may seem inconsequential, if each the more than 4 million visitors Cornwall sees in a year takes one or two, the impact becomes overwhelming.

The price of a pretty foraged centrepiece can be high when met with a $1000 fine or a lengthy trip back down south to return the stones to whence you found them. That’s what St. Gennys parish council in Bude chose to do when the scourge of pebble pilferers became too much. The beach is guarded by capitalised warning signs referencing the 1949 Coastal Protection Act that it is illegal to take stones from the beach. Something that one tourist didn’t heed,  and was traced back to his home up country after he took a bag of pebbles home with him from Crackington Haven beach, to return them or pay the price.

While indulging in a little bit of environmental kleptomania may seem like innocent sentimentality for a beach trip, committing flood defence piracy may be more than you bargained for. After all, void of their seawater glistened state once you pull them out of your pocket, the magic they once held on the beach is dampened, and that staycation that saved the price of a plane ticket may just cost £1000 more than you budgeted for.

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