Stretching from East Devon’s Orcombe Point all the way to the spectacular sea stacks known as Old Harry Rocks in Dorset, the Jurassic Coast really is a ‘walk through time’.
These amazing cliffs continue to help some of the world’s most pioneering palaeontologists and geologists in their quest for answers, preserving magnificent fossils in their prehistoric layers and allowing us to travel millions of years back to the past.
You don’t need a PhD or a carry case full of the latest field equipment to find fossils. Far from it. Some of the UK’s most significant finds have been unearthed by amateur fossil hunters or stumbled upon by dog walkers and beachcombers…you may recall our blog earlier in the year about the startling discovery made by Archie Faiers on a beach near Lyme Regis.
So, I won’t need lots of fancy equipment to go fossil hunting?
Absolutely not. All you really need is a keen pair of eyes and an appetite for adventure, however, a pocket-sized fossil guidebook could prove a handy little addition, as would an old toothbrush (for brushing away mud and debris) and a magnifying glass.
What if I find a fossil, can I take it home with me?
If you’re fossil hunting in a protected area you’re not allowed to remove your finds. You are, of course, allowed to take a photo of your fossil, and if it’s something particularly unusual, make a note of your location and contact the local heritage centre, museum or finds officer.
Will I need a sledgehammer and pick-axe to find the really exciting stuff?
Hold your horses! That’s a terrible idea. Firstly, it’s strictly forbidden in protected areas and sites of special scientific interest to hammer away willy-nilly at ancient rock formations. Secondly, you’re more likely to destroy the fossils than find them. Thirdly, and finally, you might cause a landslip and become a fossil yourself.
What kinds of fossils am I likely to find?
Along popular fossil hunting beaches, such as those below the clifftops around Charmouth and Lyme Regis, you are most likely to find ammonites and belemnites which are types of prehistoric mollusc and descendants of mussels, clams and snails; the kinds of species that we still see today. Click here to have a look at the different types of fossils you might find.
Where should I look?
Most fossils get washed from the cliffs or are displaced by natural erosion and landslips, so the best and safest place to search is along the beach amongst the loose shingle. Always be aware of the tide movements: the ideal time to go fossil hunting is on the ebbing/outgoing tide and during calm weather.
Fossil hunting is a brilliant family-friendly activity and can be really exciting, especially if one of you makes a discovery of prehistoric proportions. A great place to start would be to sign up for a guided fossil hunt where you’ll have the opportunity to learn from the experts and hone your skills.