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24 September 2014

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You are in: Dorset > Nature > Nature Features > Fossil Hunting

An ammonite discovered by David Sole

An ammonite discovered by David Sole

Fossil Hunting

David Sole is one of West Dorset's best known professional fossil collectors. We caught up with him at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival for some tips on how you can discover the hidden secrets of the Jurassic coast.

Fossil hunting heaven…
By good chance, the cliffs around Lyme Regis contain lots of well preserved fossils, and since the cliffs are quite high, exposed and very fragile, they are constantly breaking up and each winter we get a fresh supply of beautifully preserved new fossils.

David Sole

David Sole

Starting your hunt…
There’s not so much to find in the summer as very little new material arrives on the beaches during the drier months of the year. Between November and April is generally the best time to collect but that is also the time of mud flows and the majority of cliff falls, particularly in late winter and early spring, when special care needs to be taken.

If you plan to go fossiling, you should first check the weather forecast and tide tables. It’s rough seas and high tides that produce the most fossils but these are also conditions that can be dangerous. Make sure you’re properly equipped and wait until the tide is on the way out before setting off.

Know what you’re looking for…
Experience is the key. It’s helpful to check out what experienced fossil collectors are doing, where they are looking  and what sort of rocks they are interested in. If they are breaking rocks, watch how they go about it and you may also be able to learn something from the pieces they leave, for example the types of rock likely to contain fossils.

You can expect to find some fossils loose in the shingle at any time along certain parts of the coast, for example small ammonites, belemnite ‘guards’ (small bullet shaped objects), and even perhaps an ichthyosaur vertebra. If you persist, and as you gain experience – and with a bit of luck - you may start to make more exciting finds, such as even a complete ichthyosaur. The sort of things that can be found are to be seen in the local fossil shops.

The Jurassic Coast

The Jurassic Coast

Will the fossils ever run out?
Not around here – unless of course they were to build miles of sea defences, but thanks to the cost and World Heritage Status, that won’t happen.

Golden rules…
It’s important to know about the fossil collecting code which applies to most of our coastline here in West Dorset – You can continue to keep fossils found on the beach or in material that has already broken away from the cliff, but you must not dig from or chip away at the cliff itself, for safety and other reasons, including the need for scientists to be able to study fossils still ‘in situ’ in the cliff. The code gives other important safety advice and can be accessed at the website.

If you find something…
You may come across something unusual or interesting – take it to the Heritage Coast Centre at the sea front at Charmouth where the experts can assess it and - hopefully - explain what it is. If it is considered to be of scientific importance, the staff at the Centre will want to make a record of it (as provided in the code), before returning it to you. Don’t worry, it remains yours to keep!

Happy hunting!

last updated: 06/03/2008 at 14:14
created: 14/04/2005

You are in: Dorset > Nature > Nature Features > Fossil Hunting

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