As the Jurassic Period drew to a close, sea levels were falling. Shallow tropical seas gave way to coastal plains and for a brief period – around 145 million years ago – a forest grew in the area now known as Purbeck.
The evidence for the existence of this long lost landscape is exposed to the east of Lulworth Cove on a rocky ledge known as the Lulworth Fossil Forest.
A Lost World
At this point in Earth’s history flowering plants had yet to evolve, so this forest was dominated by conifers, tree-ferns and cycads. When a lagoon rose to swamp the forest, the trees died and were encased in limestone by sticky mats of algae.
The strange rounded shapes this created are known as ‘algal burrs’. The broken trunks of trees are sometimes found preserved, but none remain at the Lulworth Fossil Forest site. They were likely all collected by Victorian visitors, more than 100 years ago. However, there are still plenty of algal burrs to see and they are amongst the strangest fossils found on the Jurassic Coast.
If you are visiting the Lulworth Fossil Forest, please do not collect any of the algal burrs or other fossils, as the site is sensitive to damage.
Accessing the Lulworth Fossil Forest
The Lulworth Fossil Forest was closed between 2015 and 2020, due to a large rock fall which damaged the steps down to the site and made it too dangerous to keep open.
Led by Dorset AONB in partnership with a number of organisations, and with funding from the Coastal Communities Fund, Lulworth Estate and the MOD, access to the site has been restored and it was re-opened to the public in early 2020.
New steps and railings have been installed, and an area of unstable rock has been meshed, together with a catch fence in case of future rock falls.
A new seating area has been created and Albion Stone generously donated two large fossil tree pieces to add to people’s understanding of the site.
When visiting the site, please take care going down the steps, and be aware that is a fairly steep climb back to the top.