Fossil hunting is an enjoyable experience at any age so there is a fossil collecting code of conduct in place so you don't have to take risks, ensure you are aware of local conditions to remain safe and fossil hunt sustainably.
Many coastlines and especially those holding a rich abundance of fossil secrets vary in their physical nature due to impact of erosion that continuously acts upon them. Here are some tips so you don't have to take risks and ensure you are aware of local conditions.
The Jurassic Coast has a great many fossil locations accessed by gateway towns and villages. These fossil locations are best described as exposure sites where the eroding coastline with varying rock integrity gives rise to frequent landslips and mudflows.
It is these natural processes that expose the fossils. Therefore, fossil hunting can be hazardous if you decide to ignore the impact of tides, the weather and the state of the cliffs and surrounding landscape.
The Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site that is protected by law so it is the responsibility of the fossil collector to respect the environment and obey the be rules that govern fossil collecting. This is especially important in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). These rules are there to sustainably protect the geology for future generations.
Planning your Fossil Hunt
It is advisable to talk to local experts, visit the nearest museum or visitor centre or take a guided fossil walk to initially gather as much information you can to plan your own fossil hunt.
Check the weather conditions for the day and make sure you have the right equipment for the prevailing weather conditions if you intend to spend several hours fossil hunting.
The right footwear, waterproof clothing or sun cream maybe needed. If you intend to use a hammer ensure you have protective glasses for your eyes.
Obey all permanent, temporary warning signs and notices that maybe located on the beach you wish to hunt fossils. Some landowners along the Jurassic Coast may not wish for people to collect fossils for a number of reasons - for example, the Jurassic Coast has a number of military training and live firing areas.
It is the responsibility of the fossil collector to respect the environment and obey the rules that govern fossil collecting in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). These rules are there to sustainably protect the geology for future generations.
Stay away from the base of the cliffs in case rock falls and specifically do not climb the cliffs. Be aware for the potential of landslides and mudflows especially after poor weather conditions.
Only collect from the fallen or loose rocks on the beach and do not hammer in situ fossils from the cliffs or exposed rock ledges. The best places to find fossils are on the beach where the sea and tides has washed away much of the clay and mud to expose the fossil.
If you are collecting fossils around or near to headlands always check the tide times in advance to prevent from being cut off by the incoming tide. It is advisable to fossil hunt during a falling tide rather than an incoming tide.
Be careful on rocky foreshores which may be slippery when wet and covered in seaweed. On deeply shelving beaches beware that large powerful breaking waves can knock you off your feet.
According the RNLI a basic rule of thumb on the South Coast is that south-east winds have a shorter fetch and cause smaller waves and south-west winds have a longer fetch and cause larger and more powerful waves.
It is advisable to carry a fully charged mobile phone when fossil hunting but first check that the area has phone coverage – if you are fossil hunting on your own let someone know where you are. In case of emergencies always dial 999 or 112 for the coastguard.
If you feel you have found an exceptional fossil or a find that is too large. Do not risk destroying the fossil please report it your local museum or the Jurassic Coast Trust for advice.
The Countryside Code, UK Fossils, West Dorset Fossil Collecting Code of Conduct, Natural England, Charmouth Fossil Collecting Code, BBC Weather, Met Office (Tide Times)