Geology of Dorset Coast


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Fossil Collecting in West Dorset

Fossil collecting, sometimes on a large scale, has caused some local problems and disputes in Dorset, particularly in West Dorset. The cliffs are famous for their fossils, remains of large vertebrates occur, these are very important scientifically and also have significant financial value. At the same time there is substantial natural erosion of the cliffs, in places houses are close to the cliff-top and large excavations could cause further problems. Matters of safety also arise when fossil-collecting takes place and there can be problems of ownership. The consequence of this a Fossil Collecting Working Group, led by the Jurassic Coast Project has produced a " A Pilot Fossil Collecting Code of Conduct for West Dorset Coast. " Details of this scheme are available from the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre, Lower Sea Lane, Charmouth, Dorset, DT6 6LL (Telephone 01297-560772). Some extracts only are given below. The full code should be consulted by serious collectors, particularly anyone involved or intending to be involved in large-scale excavation.

The following is the summary version from a leaflet entitled: Fossil Collecting on the West Dorset Coast, A Pilot Code of Conduct and Fossil Recording Scheme, Winter 1998 to Spring 2000. The pamphlet contains further information. It was kindly sent to me by Richard Edmonds, Jurassic Coast Project Officer, Environmental Services Directorate, Dorset County Council, County Hall, Dorchester, Dorset, DT1 1XJ. Although with broader implications, at present, it applies specifically to the land under National Trust and Charmouth Parish Council Ownership between Lyme Regis and Hythe Beach at Burton Bradstock.

The Fossil Collecting Code of Conduct of West Dorset

Certain fossils are to be recorded in the Register of Important Fossils kept at the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre.

The Fossil Recording Scheme of West Dorset

This scheme identifies two categories of fossils:

Category I, Key Scientifically Important Fossils, and Category II for fossils of some (but not key) importance.

Category I fossils include new species or those specimens which may represent new species, fossils which are extremely rare such as the Charmouth dinosaur Scelidosaurus and fossils that exhibit exceptional preservation.

Category II fossils include vertebrates such as reptiles or fish, partial or complete, especially where the horizon of origin can be identified. Nautiloids and certain ammonitesd together with unusual assemblages of fossils are also included.

The Register is kept at the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre, Lower Sea Lane, Charmouth, Dorset, DT6 6LL, Tel 01297-560772 and can be accessed at:

If you have a research interest, register it here!

Full details regarding the Code, land ownership and fossil categories etc. are available at the Centre.

(A more extensive leaflet on the full code is also available. This has details regarding Health and Safety, Risk Assessment, cliff excavations, recording procedures, contact information and rules with regard to the sale of specimens. It also contains a warning: " Those collectors who do not follow this voluntary code, particularly by digging or prospecting in situ in the cliffs, or failing to record Category I fossils may be regarded as stealing the fossils, and appropriate legal action may be taken against them. ")

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