Looking after the Jurassic Coast is complex. The World Heritage Site is overseen by a group of organisations which collectively are called the 'Jurassic Coast Partnership'. This Partnership has been given this responsibility by the UK Government.
However, the Partnership is a committee, not an organisation, so the bulk of the work to manage the Site is done by a combination of the following:
- The Jurassic Coast World Heritage Team
- The Jurassic Coast Trust, and
- many other partners along the coast
The Team undertake the bulk of the Site management, including for this website, and are hosted by Dorset County Council. The Trust are a registered charity focused on fundraising and community engagement, and work very closely with the Team. Further information on each can be found on our Partners page.
Our ultimate aim is to pass the Site on to future generations to experience, learn from and enjoy in the same way we are able to do today.
What is a World Heritage Site?
In simple terms World Heritage Sites (WHS) are the most important natural and man-made places on Earth. They are identified so that they can be better looked after for current and future generations. They are recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) through the World Heritage Convention, a global treaty agreed by 186 of the 192 countries in the United Nations.
Contrary to popular belief, World Heritage status is not just given to places by UNESCO. Governments have to submit applications to UNESCO for places to be included on the 'World Heritage List', a process that normally involves a lot of hard work and a lengthy period of talking to the public, a process that started in Dorset and East Devon in 1993. Find out more details about World Heritage.
Why the Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site
The Dorset and East Devon Coast, more commonly known as the Jurassic Coast, was made a World Heritage Site in December 2001 for its geology and geomorphology – its rocks, fossils and landforms. The 95 mile stretch of cliffs is the only place in the world where you can see a continuous story of over 185 million years of the Earth's history, including the entire Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous geological periods. The story of the World Heritage Site is explained more here.
The main story behind the Site acheiving World Heritage Status is the ‘Walk through Time’. This is because the rocks exposed in the cliffs along the coast dip gently from the west to the east, meaning that the oldest rocks, are in the west and the youngest are generally in the east.
Because of the continuous dip in the rocks, the walk along the cliffs from Exmouth to Studland becomes a walk forward through 185 million years in the Earth’s history, from 250 million years ago to 65 million years ago. The changes through time can clearly be seen in the exposed rocks of the cliffs and in the outstanding fossils found along the length of the Site.
The key reasons for being awarded World Heritage Site status are:
- The Site includes a near-continuous sequence of Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous rock exposures, representing almost the entire Mesozoic Era (between 250 and 65 million years ago), approximately 185 million years of Earth history.
- It contains a range of internationally important Mesozoic fossil areas, including Charmouth and Lyme Regis, Kimmeridge Bay, the ‘Isles’ of Portland and Purbeck, and Durlston Bay.
- It contains a great variety of ‘textbook’ geomorphological features, including landslides such as Black Ven or Hooken, stacks such as Ladram Bay, rock arches such as Durdle Door and the most studied barrier beach anywhere in the world, Chesil beach.
History of World Heritage Status for the Jurassic Coast
World Heritage status is not automatically bestowed on a property by the British Government or UNESCO. All World Heritage Sites must be able to make a clear case for Outstanding Universal Value in order to be inscribed on the World Heritage List. The normal route to inscription in the UK is for a local partnership to come together around a common belief that a place or area has the potential to be a World Heritage Site, and then work with the Government and its agencies to get a place on the UK's 'Tentative List for Nominations'. They are then able to develop and submit a nomination to UNESCO for inscription on the List, a decision made by the World Heritage Committee at its annual meetings.
In Dorset and East Devon the possibility that the coast could qualify for World Heritage status was first identified through its inclusion in the Global Indicative List of Geological Sites (GILGES list) produced by UNESCO, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS). This idea was then raised in public by Professor Denys Brunsden at a Lyme Bay Forum meeting in 1994. Support for the idea was given by Dorset and Devon County Councils who agreed to establish a Scientific Working Group to explore feasibility. Dorset County Council also created the Jurassic Coast Project, a pilot to explore the possible opportunities for geology and geo-tourism along the Dorset Coast.
The Scientific Working Group consisted of officers of Dorset and Devon County Councils, and representatives of Bournemouth, Exeter, Plymouth and London (Kings College) Universities, the British Geological Survey, Devon Wildlife Trust, the East and South Devon and West Dorset Heritage Coast Services and English Nature. Initially the Group focused on the geology and geomorphology of the coast from Start Point (Devon) to Studland Bay (Dorset) and broadly assessed its importance in a global setting. At the same time the group looked into a series of issues that WH status might bring to the planning, conservation and economic development sectors.
The first output from the group was a consultation document entitled 'World Heritage Site Proposal – The South Devon and Dorset Coast, Start Point to Old Harry Rocks' (1996), which concluded that the coast was worthy of World Hertiage status. This was followed by a series of consultation meetings focused primarily on the boundaries of the Site and the possible impacts on conservation, tourism and development. The outcome of this process was a revised paper which suggested that the proposed Site was reduced in size to stretch from Orcombe Point (near Exmouth in Devon) to Old Harry Rocks.
A final document, 'World Heritage Site Proposal - a Statement of Intent by Dorset and Devon County Councils and the Dorset Coast Forum' was published in 1998 which revised the boundaries one final time to include the chalk exposures in Studland Bay.
This document was sent to the UK Government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) with the aim of getting the proposal included in the Government's new Tentative List for UNESCO.
Throughout this period the Dorset Coast Forum, as well as project co-originator was used as the primary consultation vehicle and the Scientific Working Group reported to them on a regular basis. The idea was supported by the Dorset Coast Forum and its commitment to pursuing the bid for World Heritage status was stated in the Dorset Coast Strategy (1999).
The Scientific Working Group and wider 'bid partnership' evolved into a Steering Group which has been in place since before the nomination was submitted, and which involved a stakeholder group wider than just those representing the scientific interests. The Steering Group remains to this day.
The proposal was finally included in the DCMS Tentative List in June 1999 and nomination documents and a Management Plan were prepared and submitted to UNESCO in June 2000. After an assessment visit in February 2001 by IUCN, UNESCO's technical advisors for natural World Heritage Sites, the Dorset and East Devon Coast was inscribed on the World Heritage List in Helsinki on December 13th 2001.
The designation, and success of the subsequent programme of activities is a reflection of the outstanding contribution made by the organisations and individuals represented on the Steering Group that formulated the original Management Plan and that has subsequently overseen the work programme. Without the foresight, skill and ambition of this group, and the consensus that they continue to reach, the global significance of the Dorset and East Devon Coast would not have achieved the level of recognition that it enjoys today.
Where is the Jurassic Coast?
The World Heritage Site lies between Orcombe Point in East Devon and Studland cliffs in Dorset. Between these two points, the boundaries are broadly defined as the average low tide mark to the top of the cliffs, or back of the beach where there are no cliffs. This does not include the built up sea-fronts at Exmouth, Sidmouth, Seaton, Lyme Regis, West Bay, Weymouth, Portland Port and Swanage. So, it is a set of long thin strips of undeveloped coastline, broken up by the Gateway Towns. However the term Jurassic Coast is often used to refer to the whole coastal area between Exmouth and Studland.
Who owns and looks after the World Heritage Site?
The land within the boundaries of the World Heritage Site is looked after by its many different owners. The majority of land is held by a combination of the National Trust, large private estates, the Ministry of Defence, the Crown Estate, and national and local authorities, but there are many small landowners along the way too. Over 90% of the land within the Site is protected by national and European nature conservation laws, and this is overseen primarily by Natural England and the Dorset and East Devon AONB teams.
But looking after the Site is not just about the land itself. World Heritage Status requires the managing body to look at issues such as access and enjoyment, education and information, conservation and protection, safety, and even economic development. These aspects of looking after the Site, including this website and all 'official work', is overseen by a partnership of many different organisations working together, including the landowners. More details, and an explanation about the Jurassic Coast Partnership and who 'we' are, can be found here.
How is it looked after?
Managing the Jurassic Coast is not straightforward. In addition to complex land ownership and boundary issues, the Site is a very popular destination for tourists and local residents alike, and the ten towns that provide the gateways to the Site all receive large numbers of visitors throughout the year. Moreover, management is not just about conservation or protection - the World Heritage Convention talks of making World Heritage a 'function in the life of the community', and of promoting awareness and understanding of the heritage of each Site.
The Partnership mentioned above is responsible for Site management, primarily through the preparation of a Management Plan, and the coordination of the Aims and actions set out in this Plan. The Plan is effectively the contract between the UK Government and UNESCO as to how the Site will be looked after, and sets out proposals for conservation, access, education, research and community engagement.
The Site is protected through UK planning law, and our involvement with the planning authorities is an important part of how the Site is managed. More details about how we respond to planning applications can be found on our Planning page.
How do you find out more about Site Management?
There are many ways to find out more. Apart from having a look at the Management Plan or talking to us, you can have a look at a number of reports, other parts of this website, or join our growing body of Friends of the Jurassic Coast for free.
Jurassic Coast Facts
Some interesting and cool facts about the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site
- The Site is approximately 95 miles or 155 km long, and just under a kilometre wide at its widest point
- The boundary is, in general, from mean low water mark to the top of the cliffs and excludes the man-made frontages of Exmouth, Sidmouth, Seaton, Lyme Regis, West Bay, Weymouth, Portland Port and Swanage.
- The Site is owned by over 80 separate landowners, the largest of which is the National Trust with over a third of the Site.
- It is England’s first Natural World Heritage Site.
- Approximately 342,000 people live in the four districts along the coast, the majority of which are within 10 miles of the Site. This is a 5% increase in 10 years.
- Only approximately 10 people live within the designated boundary.
- The name ‘Jurassic Coast’ is used as the World Heritage Site brand. It normally refers to the Site itself (Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site), but is sometimes used on its own to describe an undefined area.
The future of the World Heritage Site is an exciting long-term commitment for the whole area, involving thousands of people helping to conserve and celebrate the coast. Our aim is to pass the Site on to future generations to experience, learn from and enjoy in the same way we are able to do today. In order to help us do this, we will continue to welcome your thoughts, comments and support, so please don't hesitate to get in touch.
"The World Heritage Site is an extremely prestigious but well earned distinction for the Jurassic Coast. It is indeed of worldwide importance and a place of great fascination to anyone interested in the history of life on this planet. Let us hope that on this, the tenth anniversary of its granting, we do our best not only to maintain but improve the ways by which we enable visitors to understand its significance"
Sir David Attenborough OM CH FRS