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Exploring Budleigh Salterton along the Jurassic Coast of East Devon

Fossil Coast in collaboration with Gary Holpin one of Devon’s leading professional photographers explores Budleigh Salterton a charming East Devon town along the Jurassic Coast and explains its international importance to the Middle Triassic fossil record.

Otterton Ledge (Budleigh Salterton) - Image by Gary Holpin - Fossil Coast Drinks Co
Otterton Ledge (Budleigh Salterton) - Image by Gary Holpin

About Budleigh Salterton

The town of Budleigh Salterton is a short distance from the most westerly gateway town to the Jurassic Coast of Exmouth and is located within the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

A big attraction of Budleigh Salterton is its charm, a selection of independent and craft shops and its 2-miles of the stony beach looking eastward towards the rocky outcrop at Otterton Ledge.

Budleigh Salterton was the inspiration for J.K. Rowling, who was a graduate of Exeter University and as we all know the author of Harry Potter. Among her cast was the fictional place of “Budleigh Babberton”, the home to retired Professor Horace Eugene Flaccus Slughorn the former Potions Master at Hogwarts.

You can pick up the South West Coast Path at Lime Kiln Car Park in Budleigh Salterton named after the old lime kiln where historically coal and limestone were brought in on special flat-bottomed boats at high tide to be burnt and made into Lime for use in construction.

Dramatic day at Budleigh Salterton - Image by Gary Holpin - Fossil Coast Drinks Co
Dramatic day at Budleigh Salterton - Image by Gary Holpin

Alternatively, you can simply relax and rent a beach hut by the week or by the day between April and October from the Tourist Information Centre on Fore Street. Among the nationally recognised cultural highlights during the year are the Budleigh Salterton Music Festival (July) and Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival (September). Among the local attractions are Bicton Park Botanical Gardens and Fairlynch Museum and Arts Centre.

The Fairlynch Museum

The Fairlynch Museum is located in a Grade II Listed Georgian thatched cottage once known as Primrose Cottage. Built in 1810 by a local ship owner called Matthew Lee Yates the building was purchased in 1967 as an Arts Centre and Museum for the town.

Among the museum's exhibits is Orthis budleighensis a small brachiopod, only a few millimeters across. They are found within the quartzite pebbles from the Budleigh Salterton Pebble Beds and date back to the Ordovician Period, around 445 million years ago. Other exhibits include a model of a rhynchosaur, a therapsid reptile found in the Otter Sandstone that sits unconformably on top of the Budleigh Salterton Pebble Beds.

The Budleigh Salterton Geological Record

As part of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the town of Budleigh Salterton has sedimentary geology that also dates back to the Triassic Period between 252 - 201 million years ago.

The Triassic Period lasted for approximately 50.6 million years and had three epochs called the Early Triassic, the Middle Triassic, and the Late Triassic. The Triassic is largely defined by its book-ending extinctions with firstly the Permian and laterly the Jurassic. This was a time when the Earth was influenced by the tectonic movements of Pangea, one giant supercontinent, as it began to fracture.

The sediments of Budleigh Salterton were originally deposited by two river systems that formed both the Budleigh Salterton Pebble Beds and the Otter Sandstone Formation. In Budleigh Salterton, the Triassic rock sits on the much older Budleigh Salterton Pebble Beds that date back to the Ordovician Period (488.3 - 443.7 million years ago).

During the Ordovician Period, the northern hemisphere was almost entirely ocean and the southern hemisphere was mainly an ancient supercontinent called Gondwana consisting of the modern-day continents of Antarctica, India, Australia, South America, and Africa.

Within the Budleigh Salterton, quartzite pebbles can be found Orthis budleighensis a very small brachiopod. Brachiopods are marine-shelled animals with two hard outer valves composed of calcite or chitinophosphate (calcium phosphate plus organic matter). They are hinged at the rear end, while the front can be opened for feeding or closed for protection. NOTE: There is a bylaw restricting the removal of pebbles from Budleigh beach and is enforceable with a fine.

The red sandstone rocks or Otter Sandstone Formation characterises much of the cliffs of East Devon. The red sandstone was also the inspiration for Fossil Coast Drinks own Red Bed Berry Gin Liqueur whose red colour is achieved through the distillation of red currant, strawberry and raspberry botanicals.

The Otter Sandstone Formation was formed during the Middle Triassic (246 - 229 million years ago) known as the Anisian Stage comprising of a layer of aeolian (“wind derived”) sands and this sits beneath a series of river channel deposits that developed as the climate become increasingly more temperate and wetter.

Budleigh Salterton Fossils

Within the Otter Sandstone, there is a fluvial layer (“river derived”) of conglomerates associated with braided rivers and streams overlaid by siltstones and mudstones of the Sidmouth Mudstone Formation, part of the widespread Mercia Mudstone Group.

Fossils are found in these layers as it was once a wet sedimentary basin indicated by desert minerals like gypsum and those damper conditions allowed new habitats to develop and animals to colonise the river systems.

The fossil record of the Otter Sandstone Formation shows a number of vertebrate fossils including a rhynchosaur known as Fodonyx spenceri now housed in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter.

The fossil record of the Middle Triassic is internationally important for Budleigh Salterton because it’s a period when life began to re-emerge on Earth following the worst-ever extinction event that devastated life and it is for this reason why the fossil record of the Early Triassic is seriously impoverished.

The earlier Permian-Triassic extinction event, also known as the "Great Dying" was responsible for the extinction of up to 90% of all species 252 million years ago and it was not until the Middle Triassic that there was the recovery of organisms and better environmental conditions.

The most common of the Middle Triassic fossils are tetrapods ("four legs"). The principle tetrapod fossil localities along the East Devon coastline include the prominent coastal landform of Otterton Ledge (East of Budleigh Salterton), Between Ladram Bay and High Peak; and from Chit Rocks looking east from Sidmouth towards the exposed rocks of Chapmans Rocks of Salcombe Hill Cliff and the distant Higher Dunscombe Cliff.

Ottery Estuary Nature Reserve looking out to sea and the Otterton Ledge - Image by Gary Holpin - Fossil Coast Drinks Co
Ottery Estuary Nature Reserve - Image by Gary Holpin

As mentioned, among the fossil record is the rhynchosaur known as Fodonyx spenceri believed to be a medium-sized herbivore. There have also been rarer fragment fossil finds of an Archosaur (“ruling reptile”) a member of a subclass that also includes the dinosaurs, the pterosaurs ("flying reptiles").

Other reptile fossil finds include evidence of the sail-backed predatory reptile Ctenosauriscus; the 6-meter long Tanystropheus (”Long strap”) a shoreline predator; the procolophonid Kapes bentoni a small, superficially lizard-like parareptile also found in Russia and the much rarer fragments of the smaller diapsid Coartaredens isaaci. Amphibian bones such as the Temnospondyli are present. The fish Dipteronotus cyphus have also been reported, along with insects, conchostracans (clam-shrimp), and plants including conifer trees.

It would also be remiss not to mention Feralisaurus corami a rare early diapsid categorised as a "holotype" fossil because of its uniqueness in the fossil record. This new fossil was found several years ago in the Otter Sandstone near Sidmouth and is now on show at the Sidmouth Museum.

In the lower sections of the Otter Sandstone Formation are also many vertical and irregular calcareous structures known as rhizoliths or rhyzocretions representing the mineralised moulds and casts of ancient rooting systems that have died away and the presence of paleosols or an ancient soil now incorporated into the Triassic geological record for South Devon.

It’s hard to believe that Budleigh Salterton was once a wet sedimentary basin whose environment allowed habitats to develop and provided an opportunity for animals and plants to flourish and colonise the river systems during the Middle Triassic.

About Gary Holpin

Gary Holpin is a professional photographer based in East Devon, not far from the Jurassic Coast. Gary fell in love with the coastline of the southwest whilst walking the South West Coast Path, and this led him to become a photographer with a particular love for seascapes and capturing the beauty of our coastline. These days he does it professionally, and as well as landscapes he also specialises in providing photography services to tourism businesses, including property interiors & exteriors (hotels, B&B's), leisure & tourism locations (from glamping sites to tourist attractions to golf courses), aerial (drone) photography, and people and events (from corporate headshots to informal shots of customers enjoying tourist attractions). You can see more about Gary and his work on his website at as well as on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.


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