Exploring the Jurassic Coast

Feeling the Credit Crunch Pinch? Read on for our Fossil Hunting guide to a free day of fun for the price of a plastic bucket!

The Jurassic Coast, stretching from Weymouth in East Dorset right to Exmouth in Devon, was awarded England’s first natural World Heritage Sight status by UNESCO. Dorset’s magnificent coastline is one of the wonders of the natural world and we think a trip to the beach for a bit of fossil hunting or just a view-searching wander makes for a great way to spend a day in marvellous Dorset. In its 95 miles the Jurassic Coast represents 185 million years of history; quite a journey through time! Dorset’s Jurassic coastline is not just fascinating, it’s also stunningly beautiful. With beaches, bays and a wide variety of wildlife, including puffins and dolphins, you can enjoy a really lovely meander along whichever part of the coast you come to see. Some of the coastal features, such as the remarkable Durdle Door or the Hooken Landslide are worth taking a special trip to see and Chesil Beach, with its 28km of shingle bank, is one of the most spectacular barrier beaches in the world. Pushchairs just aren’t an option in most of these places so if you have a baby or an unwilling walker, a baby sling or backpack might be a good idea.

Parts of this coast are world famous for their fossil finds, including exceptional dinosaur footprints. Toddlers and young children are great fossil hunters; they’ve got excellent eyesight and are several feet nearer the sand than your average adult!! Give a tot a bucket, show them roughly what they are looking for and you will have a happy child who’s suddenly fascinated by Dorset’s unique geology! It was actually children who discovered one of England’s most significant fossil finds; 12 year old Mary Anning and her brother found a complete Ichthyosaur in 1811 here in Dorset (now on display in London’s Natural History Museum).

The beaches around Lyme Regis and Charmouth are said to be the best hunting ground for fossils.  You can only walk along the beach from Lyme Regis to Charmouth at low tide, so make sure you check the tide tables carefully. The Lyme Regis Philpot Museum, the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre and Dinosaurland all run guided walks, rock pool rambles and fossil forays with local experts. Pop into the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre for tips on what to look for and for the Fossil Collecting Code of conduct. The wardens at the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre will be able to give you advice on where to look, what you might find, and how to look after any fossils you do find. They have interactive computers, hands on displays and lots of information on fossils, fossil hunting and the local coastal and marine wildlife. There is even a video microscope that you can use to examine your finds! So pop on your wellies and prepare to be outshone by your offspring as you all set out for a fossil hunting adventure!

Fossil collecting is all about you having fun, but it is just as important that you remain safe as well. The following code has been devised by the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre and is endorsed by the Geologists’ Association, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the National Trust, Charmouth Parish Council, English Nature and the Jurassic Coast Word Heritage team.
Fossil Collectors’ Code:
Always collect safely and responsibly.
The beach is the best place to find fossils NOT the cliffs. Collect from fallen material only.
Only collect on a falling tide.
You do not need a Hammer to find fossils. If you use one ONLY use geological a hammer.
Stay away from the cliffs and never hammer at the cliffs.
Tell someone where you are going and how long you will be.
Look up before you look down, rockfalls are common all year around.
Stay away from mud flows.
Respect other beach users, not everyone is here to collect fossils.

For more information on Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre (free to visit) go to www.charmouth.org