The Jurassic Coast extends from Exmouth in Devon all the way to Studland Bay in Dorset. The Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage site that is an absolute must for anyone coming to Devon and even vaguely interested in fossils.
96 miles of almost uninterrupted fossil laden cliffs that span 185 million years of some of the most interesting periods in geological history: the Triassic, the Jurassic, and Cretaceous. Yes, that means dinosaurs.
The Invention of Palaeontology
The ways people explained fossils before science came along were hilarious. Thankfully, a guy called Georges Cuvier noticed that some fossils were unlike anything alive, and the idea of extinction was born. A lady named Mary Anning grew up collecting fossils in Lyme Regis, at the Dorset end of the Jurassic Coast. She found the first complete Ichthyosaur, discovered plesiosaurs, pterosaurs, and cephalopods. Anning was one of the most important figures in palaeontology and she roamed up and down the Jurassic coast, exactly where you are headed soon!
Want to Find your Own Fossils?
It takes more than a toffee hammer to hunt fossils. You need a keen eye and to know the rules.
On the Jurassic Coast, you can collect fossils to your heart’s content. If it is on the beach or sticking out of the cliffside, you know that the sea will claim it if you do not. So pick it up and have a look. If it requires you to hammer away at the cliff, leave it alone. This is not just to save the fossil from inexperienced hands, it will keep you safe.
This is a World Heritage Site and there is serious science being carried out, so you need to know how to report your finds. The local museum will happily record your findings, as will the UK Fossils Network and Discovering Fossils.
Check the location you are going to look for fossils at before you go. It might be dangerous, not have many, or be off limits to amateurs. With 95 miles of coast, you have plenty of opportunities.
Try not to take too many fossils. Leave something you already have for someone else.
The cliffs of the Jurassic Coast yield their fossils so easily because they erode so easily. Landslides and slips are common and people are injured and sometimes killed on the coast. Check with the local museum for the best spots and any safety tips.
Stay away from the tops and bases of cliffs. Rock falls are impossible to predict and can be deadly.
Beaches are the safest place to look.
Recent landslides are off-limits, they can slip again, especially if it has recently rained.
Look for the big yellow signs and obey them.
Check tides to make sure you can get out if you go in.
Do not hammer into the cliff face, it can loosen rocks and cause landslides.
Call 999 in an emergency.
Where is Good for Fossil Hunting?
The gorgeous seaside village of Charmouth is an ancient settlement that is now the best place on the Jurassic Coast for finding fossils. It has a big shingle beach that regularly reveals great specimens and a Heritage Coast Centre that does fossil hunting walks. You can borrow their microscope to check out your finds too! If you are with a group that has members uninterested in fossil hunting, they will find the area perfect for walking.
Lyme Regis is where Mary Anning began her fossil hunting career and it remains a great place to safely find fossils. The museum there has a great feature on Anning and some incredible specimens that have been found locally.
Beer (yes, that really is its name) has some incredible white chalk cliffs that regularly spit out great specimens. The cliffs are dangerous and should not be approached but the beach has lots of rocks to crack open and peer inside.
Sidmouth is a beautiful spot to base a fossil hunting expedition. The fantastic beaches and clear waters make it a popular tourist spot, so the non-fossil hunters can have some fun too.
Different Every Year
One of the great things about the Jurassic Coast is its ephemeral nature – the constant erosion mean that it changes from day to day, week to week, year to year. You can come back the next summer and find that everything has changed, the whole coastline looks subtly different. With these changes comes new opportunities. People come to the Jurassic Coast from all over the world for its unique fossil hunting experience; they return year after year because it just keeps on giving.
Always report your fossil finds. Never take anything that is not freely available. Be safe and obey the safety guidance. Keep an eye on the tides and tell people where you are going before you go.