« Good Practice Guide
Fossil Hunting and Geology
The Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site is England’s first natural World Heritage Site – it is known as The Jurassic Coast. It covers 95 miles of truly stunning coastline from East Devon to Dorset, with rocks recording 185 million years of the Earth’s history. The Jurassic coast offers a unique insight into the Earth Sciences as it clearly depicts a geological ‘walk through time’ spanning the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
Take notice of warning signs along the coast
Where to go
The best locations in Dorset for fossil hunting in Dorset are at Charmouth and Lyme Regis. A special fossil code of conduct has been agreed to ensure it is carried out correctly and enjoyed by all – details are below
- The best tools for finding fossils are sharp eyes and patience.
- Many of the best fossils can be found just lying on the beach and it is simply a matter of searching slowly and carefully for them.
- The best time to go collecting is after a storm as the sea will have refreshed the beaches but stay well away from cliffs.
- Fossils can be found by breaking rocks open but this is much harder as there are many types of rock on the coast and most are not worth breaking. We recommend that you join a fossil walk to find out how to use a hammer.
- NEVER hammer indiscriminately at large fossils. It is pointless and damages them.
- NEVER hammer into the solid cliffs and foreshore ledges; it is also pointless and can be dangerous.
- Along some parts of the coast; at Kimmeridge and within the Army Ranges for instance, hammers are not allowed.
- Observe all local signs; they are there to help and advise you on how to explore the coast.
- Explore the local visitor centres and take their guided walks as this is the best way to get a head start.
Do your bit:
Watch out for wildlife
Follow these steps to make sure that you do not disturb wildlife while you are fossil hunting on the Dorset coast:
- Avoid damaging plants and species on the rocks or cliffs
Watch out for the environment
- Take all rubbish home – do not discard rubbish on the beaches. Marine and beach litter spoils peoples experience of the Dorset coast and could harm wildlife. Find out more about Marine litter in Dorset.
Safety and fossil hunting code
On the beach
- Take notice of warning signs
- Always stay away from the cliffs.
- Do not climb the cliffs. Rock falls can happen at any time.
- Beware of landslides and mudflows, especially during or after wet weather.
- Always aim to be on the beaches on a falling tide and beware of the incoming tide, especially around headlands.
- Beware of large waves in rough weather, especially on steeply shelving beaches like Chesil.
On the coast path
- Keep well away from the cliff edges and ensure that children and dogs are kept under control.
- Observe all restricted access and diversion signs – this is a changing and active coast. The signs indicate danger.
- Follow the Country Code.
- The best, and safest, place to look for fossils is on the beach where the sea has washed away soft clay and mud.
- Do not collect or hammer into the cliffs, fossil features or rocky ledges.
- Keep collecting to a minimum. Avoid removing in situ fossils, rocks or minerals.
- The collection of actual specimens should be restricted to those places where there is a plentiful supply.
- Only collect what you need ……. leave something for others.
- Never collect from walls or buildings. Take care not to undermine fences, bridges or other structures.
- Be considerate and don’t leave a site in an unsightly or dangerous condition.
- Some landowners do not wish people to collect …. please observe notices.
The West Dorset fossil collecting code of conduct
- This applies between Lyme Regis and Burton Bradstock.
- Collectors are asked NOT to dig in the cliffs without permission.
- Important fossil finds should be registered at the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre.
The Fossil Collecting and Beach Safety Guide leaflet and the full Fossil Collecting Code are available to download below as Adobe Acrobat files.
Fossil Collecting and Beach Safety Guide – Adobe Acrobat (new window) 478.90 Kb
Full Fossil Collecting Code – Adobe Acrobat (new window) 61.15 Kb
Find out more at the Jurassic Coast Website
Explore the Dorset coast with iCoast