Pebbles, shells, sand: hefty French fines possible for beach souvenirs

Fines of up to €150,000 could make you think twice about taking a bit of the beach home

Taking too many shells, pebbles, sand, flowers and wood from the seaside could land you in hot water in France

Planning a trip to a beach in France soon? Remember the old adage: ‘Take nothing but your litter, leave nothing but your footsteps’, as authorities warn of high fines for taking home shells, pebbles, sand, or flowers.

Taking items from the beach may seem harmless, but it can damage the coastal ecosystem - and land you with a fine of up to €1,500 (and up to €150,000 in some cases, see below).

Beaches and coastal areas in France are protected by the Code de l’environnement. 

Article L.321-8 clearly states: “The removal of materials [...] is limited or prohibited when it is likely to compromise, directly or indirectly, the integrity of beaches, coastal dunes, cliffs, [or] marshes.”

In many cases, this means that the removal of items such as sand, shells, and pebbles is banned.

Collecting sand, shells, and pebbles in ‘unreasonable’ amounts - beyond a tiny quantity for personal use as a one-off - is considered to be an “infringement of the public maritime domain” that weakens the coastline. 

This is because these elements are known to play a vital role in protecting flora and fauna on the beach.

Read also: Can I take souvenirs, pebbles and sea glass, from a French beach? 

Wild coastal flowers

Picking wild coastal flowers that only grow on the coast may land you in even more trouble, as these are classified and protected.

Picking them can lead to a fine of up to €150,000 for “undermining the conservation of non-cultivated plant species”, the Code states. 

Read also: SEE: 3 French beaches named among most beautiful in world 

Driftwood and ‘le laisse de mer

The collection of driftwood, however, is usually permitted. 

Government website le Service public states that “there are no official regulations concerning the collection of wood polished by water”. 

However, people are only allowed to take a reasonable amount in small quantities for personal use. This is because the wood is also considered to be part of ‘le laisse de mer’, which denotes living elements and debris deposited on beaches by waves and tides.

This debris is “a veritable ecosystem that contributes to the life of the coastline”, the site states.

In contrast, the collection of frosted glass found on the beach is encouraged, as it helps to keep the beach clean, the rules state.

Read also: How to pick a clean beach in France 
Read also: 398 French beaches awarded ‘blue label’ in 2024: map and list details 

Molluscs and shellfish

Some beaches may permit the collection of shellfish and molluscs for personal consumption, although the regulations vary from one department to another. 

It is a good idea to check the local council regulations before you start collecting.