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Fossil Hunting at Burton Bradstock on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset.

Updated: May 2

Fossil Coast Drinks Co is pleased to introduce Steve Snowball as a guest blogger who will be sharing his knowledge, experience and expertise about fossil hunting at Burton Bradstock on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset. Steve is an accomplished author of "A Guide to Fossil Collecting in England & Wales" and co-author of four other highly acclaimed guides to fossil collecting on the Dorset coast.

Burton Bradstock in Dorset along the Jurassic Coast
Burton Bradstock in Dorset along the Jurassic Coast

Make no mistake, the cliffs along the shore at Burton Bradstock are dangerous. The frequency of falls during 2023/24 has increased and these have been large and potentially life-threatening. Being hit by falling rocks from above is something to bear in mind and as the beach is now narrower than the height of the cliffs, there are few places where retreat is possible, if at all. The photos show the sheer magnitude of such falls.

Oolitic Slab with bivalves, belemnites and ammonites
Oolitic Slab with bivalves, belemnites and ammonites

The dramatic cliffs at Burton Bradstock (familiar to viewers of the TV drama, ‘Broadchurch’ ) are mostly of Toarcian (Lower Jurassic) and Aalenian (Middle Jurassic) aged rocks of the Bridport Sand Formation, the mineral staining giving the cliffs their spectacular orange appearance.

It’s not an overly fossiliferous rock and, as with this location generally, it relies on cliff falls to provide rocks from which fossils might be found.

The Bridport Sand is present in the basal part of the cliffs from Hive Beach to West Bay and from which ammonites and belemnites occur.

However, the real prize at Burton Bradstock is when the top layer falls. This is the Inferior Oolite Formation, with the top 7 metres composed of highly condensed, Inferior Oolite limestone. The Inferior Oolite is of Bajocian age in the main, with a thin upper layer of Lower Bathonian. It is densely packed with fossils, particularly ammonites. Local collectors, (who invariably get to the falls first!), can wait for years for a significant fall that brings down the all-important top layer of Inferior Oolite.

Large rock fall at Burton Bradstock on Dorset along the Jurassic Coast
Large cliff rock fall in December 2023 at Burton Bradstock on Dorset along the Jurassic Coast

If you’re lucky enough to get to the location after a fall, you’ll need a heavy lump hammer and a good rock chisel to extract fossils, which will need further prepping at home. Many ammonite species occur here and many can be exquisite, particularly those preserved in calcite. You might wish to engage the services of a professional to prep your finds, as the rock is not easy to work on, without specialist air abrasion tools.


Bridport Sand with ammonites Leioceras opalinum
Bridport Sand with ammonites

Before heading off to this location, check tide times thoroughly and ensure that you have notified others of your whereabouts and likely time off return. Safety first! Parking is probably best at Hive Beach.

Hive Beach is located roughly 2 miles east of Bridport, just off the B3157 Bridport to Weymouth road at DT6 4RF. This is a National Trust car park and parking charges apply: being £4.00 for 2 hours, £8.00 for 4 hours and £10.00 for all day.

Be prepared for a long walk and keep away from the base of cliffs. Head west, away from the car park and examine any fallen rocks enroute. The inferior Oolite layer does not appear for some distance, so make Burton Freshwater a good point to aim for. Here, fallen rocks are more likely to be of the Inferior Oolite and productive.

Leioceras opalinum Ammonite from Burton Bradstock along the Jurassic Coast
Leioceras opalinum Ammonite

Walking west, towards Burton Freshwater, you’ll notice the limestone band of the Inferior Oolite Formation in the uppermost layers of the cliff. The limestone comprises a marine limestone formed 174 – 167 million years ago in shallow waters not dissimilar to the Caribbean today.

Oolite is a type of sedimentary rock, usually limestone, made up of ooids cemented together. An ooid is a small spherical grain that forms when a particle of sand or other nucleus is coated with concentric layers of calcite or other minerals.

Burton Cliff at Burton Bradstock in Dorset along the Jurassic Coast
Burton Cliff - West of Hive Beach in Dorset along the Jurassic Coast

There are other fossils to be found in the Inferior Oolite besides ammonites. Gastropods, bivalves and belemnites occur with regularity. This can be a frustrating location and there is a chance that there are no remnants of previous falls to be seen. The sea here can dispose of fallen material very quickly and large falls can be dispersed in a matter of days, given the right conditions.

Fossils found at Burton Cliff, West of Hive Beach

Above Left: The ammonite, Strigoceras truelli | Above Middle: Parkinsonia parkinsoni, a common find |

Above Right: Parkinsonia rarecosta.

Don’t attempt to hammer into the cliffs. This is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). Fossils can only be collected from ex situ (i.e. fallen) material. Bathing here can also be dangerous. The beach shelves steeply & there is a strong under-tow. Take care on the shoreline because sudden large waves can engulf persons at the water's edge.

This location comprises hard, heavy rocks, so remember to bring a tough and large rucksack or bag for any finds. It’s a long trek back to the car park with a heavy bag and so vigilance on the tides is vital.

The only access point beyond Hive Beach is at Burton Freshwater, where the River Bride meets the sea and it would be possible to walk north to Freshwater Beach Holiday Park and then onward to the main B3157 road back to Burton Bradstock.

About Guest Blogger - Steve Snowball

Steve Snowball spent a total of 35 years working in education; initially as a teacher, then as a headteacher and finally as an education advisor in West Sussex.  He retired to live on the Jurassic Coast of West Dorset, where he was able to pursue his keen interest in collecting fossils and spending time walking his dogs, enjoying landscape photography, oil painting and gardening. Steve is the author of ‘A Guide to Fossil Collecting in England & Wales’ and co-author of a series of four other highly-acclaimed guides to fossil collecting on the Dorset coast, all published by Siri Scientific Press.


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