Fossil collecting in East Devon

Jurassic cliffs at Sidmouth

For anyone interested in fossil collecting the Jurassic Coast is a wonderful place to visit. Collectors are drawn to the area for many reasons. Beautiful scenery and quaint country towns aside this is one of if not the best Jurassic and Cretaceous sites in England. The fossil collecting public is allowed to collect directly from the beaches along the cliffs that border the English Channel. There are several prime locations along this section of coastline including Charmouth and Lyme Regis.


What makes this area so special? Aside from the abundance of ammonites, belemnites, crinoids and other marine fossils it is that the cliff faces are constantly eroding. This exposes new fossils with some regularity. The exposed cliffs range in age from 150 to 100 million years old. The older rocks are Jurassic in origin while the newer one derives from the Cretaceous Period.

What makes this area such a special fossil collecting gold mine aside from the abundance of ammonites, crinoids, belemnites and other marine fossils is that the cliff faces are constantly eroding. This exposes new fossils with some regularity. The exposed cliffs range in age from 150 to 100 million years old. The older rocks are Jurassic in origin while the newer one derives from the Cretaceous Period.

Lyme Regis

This is perhaps the most famous of the fossil collecting sites along this coastline. The area has received worldwide recognition as a fossil site for some 200 years. The town of Lyme Regis has lodging facilities, restaurants, and local fossil shops which provide information and supplies for your fossil adventure. The abundance of fossils in the area has spawned an industry around fossils collecting. Visit the Lyme Fossil shop for a look at some of the ichthyosaurus fossils that have been found here.

Chippel Bay

To the west is Chippel Bay. Here you may find ammonites, belemnites and on rare occasions bone fragments of plesiosaurus and ichthyosaurus. The fossils erode from the surrounding cliffs which are made up of shale overlying blue lias.

To the west of Chippel Bay you can walk to the ammonite beds where you can see thousands of ammonites as if the beach were paved with them. Some are over 50 centimeters across. They are preserved in the blue lias of the area.

Church Cliffs

You will also find fossils to the east at Church Cliffs. These cliffs are made up of layers of limestone and shale. The most commonly found fossils here are ammonites, brachiopods, and the shells of bivalves. Ichthyosaurs have also been found here but don’t count on spotting one. They are extremely rare.

The best fossil hunting tends to be at the base of the cliffs. This is especially true after storms with lots of rain. The layers of rock of this area differ in their porosity. As the water soaks into the ground and comes to a layer with little porosity it acts as a lubricant and causes slides. This is one of the reasons that this area is so good for fossil hunting. It is also potentially dangerous. Please read and follow the code of conduct for fossil collectors and the safety precautions outlined at the bottom of this page.

At least one local resident, Mary Anning, has become famous for collecting fossils in the Lyme Regis area, at least among fossil collectors. Mary grew up in Lyme Regis in the early 1800’s. As a child she was fascinated by the many fossils she found on the beach. At age 11 she discovered the first ichthyosaur. This is a large fish-like reptile. The one Mary found was 30 feet (10 meters) long. As she grew up she became a very well respected fossil collector. She made a living selling fossils in a small shop in town. Mary made another first find at Lyme Regis, a Plesiosaurus. This is a large marine reptile with a long thin neck and tail.

Charmouth

Charmouth is another great fossil hunting place on the Jurassic Coast. Charmouth gets its name from the river Char which flows to the sea here. There is a museum and fossil shop where rock hounds can pick up some tips on finding fossils in the area.

Stonebarrow

The beaches and cliffs around Charmouth are all rewarding for fossil hunters. Of particular interest are the Stonebarrow Cliffs. These are to the east of Charmouth. Looking in that direction you will see the Golden Cap. This is a layer of more recent Cretaceous rock overlaying the older Jurassic rocks. It is visible because of the erosion of the cliffs. The fossils of the Stonebarrow Cliffs are ammonites, crinoids, belemnites, and an occasional ichthyosaur vertebrate. If you are lucky you may find a Pyritized ammonite here. They are easy to recognize because of their golden color. As with all the cliffs along this coastline the rocks are unstable. Be careful! The conditions that make this a good fossil site also make it hazardous due to falling rock! Read and follow the safety precautions in the fossil collecting code of conduct

The article on this page has been written by guest writer Doug Mann, To learn more about fossil collecting please visit his website Fossils Facts and Finds.

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