Conserving The Coast

Erosion is the key to the conservation of the World Heritage Site. This coast is only interesting and beautiful because it is falling into the sea! Erosion maintains exposure of the cliff faces and it is the rock layers we see within them that reveal a record of geological time; 185 million years of the Earth's ancient history can be seen along just 95 miles of coastline.

Erosion also ensures a constant supply of fossils to the beaches, especially along the West Dorset coast where the cliffs are particularly soft. And erosion itself is actually part of the reason why the coast is a World Heritage Site - the range of coastal landforms, the cliffs, beaches, sea stacks and landslides, have all been created by erosion, providing an open laboratory for the study of coastal processes.

The Site is protected by existing UK conservation law through Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which are identified and monitored by Natural England (previously English Nature). The geological interest is described in the Geological Conservation Review (GCR), identified by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. The greatest threats to the Site are through coast defences and inappropriate fossil collecting. The Jurassic Coast World Heritage Team provide geological expertise on the ground for the management and monitoring of the Site including working with coastal engineers on the Shoreline Management Plan process, research scientists and local fossil collectors.

The State of Conservation report is an assessment of the World Heritage Site from January 2007. It is anticipated that this statement will be updated regularly using this template. At the time of writing, the MSC Napoli Incident had just started and therefore this report does not contain a full assessment of the implications of this accident on the Site.
Read the  statement_on_site_conservation_may_2008 (166.66 Kb)

The format of the report has changed considerably due to the difficulty of monitoring and capturing issues, events, developments etc across 155 km of coast with overlapping Earth science interests. The new SOC report contains a very brief summary followed by an appended table that shows what has been happening where over the last five years.

Read the latest  State of Conservation Report (SOC Report) for 2010

 State of Conservation Report 2010 (66.77 Kb)

 Appendix to SOC June 2010 (89.89 Kb)

Conservation describes the designations and planning systems that protect the coast. Management Issues identifies the threats. Earth Science Research outlines work that aims to promote the research. LGAP is the Dorset Local Geodiversity Action Plan - a plan to promote, protect and enhance the geological interest of the county.

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Coastal erosion and coast protection

Portland West WearesPortland West WearesThe Jurassic Coast is a beautiful, interesting and internationally important place because it is eroding. Indeed, coasts are a product of erosion. Without the sea eating into the land we would not have a coast at all. An obvious statement but one that needs to be expressed as most people's instant reaction to a landslide or a storm is that it is a 'bad thing'. On the Jurassic Coast, erosion exposes the rocks and uncovers the fossils. These are two of the key features upon which World Heritage Site status was granted by UNESCO

Read more: Coastal erosion and coast protection

Fossil Collecting

Scelidosaurus, the Charmouth dinosaur. This is probably the finest dinosaur found in Britain but it was recovered in pieces from a landslide largely over a four month period thanks to the dedication of just one local collector.Scelidosaurus, the Charmouth dinosaur. This is probably the finest dinosaur found in Britain but it was recovered in pieces from a landslide largely over a four month period thanks to the dedication of just one local collector.The primary objective for the World Heritage Site in terms of the management of the fossil interest is to provide the most effective mechanism for the recovery of fossils of great scientific value that are constantly at risk of damage or destruction by the sea. We believe that collectors with open access to the site and acting under the guidance of responsible collecting offer the best way to achieve that aim. In addition, we want to see the coast used as a place to inspire and engage people in geology and fossils through, where it is sustainable, the collection of fossils. Ultimately, this is a site where collecting can take place in many, but not all areas, but that must be at a level which does not compromise the scientific integrity of site, indeed, it should complement it.

Read more: Fossil Collecting

Protecting the site

The World Heritage Site is protected through existing UK legislation that applies to Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI's). There are thirteen SSSI's that cover all but 10.5km of the coast, typically divided at the gateway towns.

The Earth science interests are recognised through 66 Geological Conservation Review (GCR) sites that essentially define the core values of the World Heritage Site for geology, palaeontology, geomorphology and structure.

Read more: Protecting the site

Monitoring the coast

A rock fall along Stonebarrow cliffs east of Charmouth. One stormA rock fall along Stonebarrow cliffs east of Charmouth.Monitoring the quality of a coastal geological site such as the Jurassic Coast is, at one level, very simple in that the coast is maintained by erosion and therefore so long as continues to erode, it is likely to remain in 'favourable condition'. Therefore the construction of coastal defences is the greatest single threat to the Site. A secondary consideration is fossil collecting. As discussed before; rapidly eroding sites are more robust (and more productive) in terms of fossil collecting, while slowly eroding cliffs are more sensitive. Many of these more slowly eroding sections are high, towering cliffs and therefore they are very unlikely to be effected by, for instance, irresponsible collecting while many of the important fossils have already been collected, typically in the course of scientific study many decades ago or even during as far back as Victorian times when the Natural Sciences were of great interest to many.

Read more: Monitoring the coast