Where to go
Fossils can come from almost anywhere along the Jurassic Coast, but they are mostly quite hard to find and in some places fossil collecting is not allowed without permission.
For any beginner, the beaches between Charmouth and Lyme Regis are the best and safest place to try fossil hunting.
‘I’m not going to Charmouth or Lyme Regis… what do I do?’ – there are plenty of opportunities to see fantastic fossils, even if you’re not in a good place to give fossil hunting a go. Why not visit one of the following museums or visitor centres?
When to go
Winter is by far the best season to try fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast – the beaches are quieter and the fossils are more plentiful. This is due to rough weather causing more erosion. Learn more about the important role erosion plays for the World Heritage Site.
When you are planning a fossil hunt, always check the tides. A falling tide is the safest and best time to spend time on the beach.
What to take
Unless you plan to make fossil hunting a regular hobby, taking a hammer is a waste of time. It can take months to learn how to find fossils that are inside rocks.
Here’s the good news – many fossils simply lie exposed amongst the beach pebbles, just waiting to be spotted.
Your most important tool? …your eyes.
Our top tip? …be patient. Fossil hunting is mostly about luck. The more time spent searching the more chance of finding something.
Don’t forget – wear the right clothes for the weather, especially if it’s cold. Fossil hunting often involves moving slowly along the shore, so it can be hard to stay warm. Take some small bags or tubs to carry any fossils you find. If you do choose to use a hammer always wear eye protection.
Meet Our Jurassic Coast Fossil Warden
The Jurassic Coast Trust works to promote responsible fossil collecting across the World Heritage Site. Part of this work involves employing a Fossil Warden to speak to people along the coast’s most popular fossil beaches during busy periods of the year.
Our current Fossil Warden is Stuart Godman, who covers the coast between Lyme Regis and Charmouth, armed with a pocketful of fossils and years of collecting experience. Stuart speaks to around 2,000 people per year, encouraging them to search for fossils responsibly and safely.
If you see Stuart whilst you’re out on the coast, do pop over and say hi, and don’t be afraid to ask him for fossil hunting tips!
What to look for (the trickiest bit)
Our top, number one, most important and crucial tip of all is… go out with a guide! If you are trying fossil hunting for the first time it can be daunting. A guided fossil hunt is easily the best way to build confidence and learn from an experienced collector.
To start you off, check out the selection of fossils below. These are often found loose on the beach around Charmouth and Lyme Regis.
You could also invest in our official guide to Fossils of the Jurassic Coast. It will take you through the magnificent story of the Site’s world-class palaeontology, with all profit from the book helping to protect the World Heritage Status of this special coastline.
Don’t forget!… whilst you look for fossils you should also be looking out for dangers. Avoid fresh rockfalls, mudflows and landslides. The coastguard is called out every single year for people getting stuck or cut off by the tide. Don’t be one of them.
Iron pyrites or ‘fool’s gold’ ammonites are a famous Charmouth fossil and are more easily found after a storm. They are the shells of extinct animals related to squid and octopus.
Belemnites are the internal hard parts of a squid-like animal. These are nice complete examples. More often they are found broken into segments.
The scattered backbones of Ichthyosaurs, a type of giant marine reptile, are relatively common around Charmouth and Lyme Regis, but you still have to be pretty lucky to find one.
Many fossil sea shells look just like the modern shells you might find on the beach. They are lots of different types of fossils sea shell found along the Jurassic Coast, including relatives of oysters, clams and scallops. This one from Charmouth is a bit like a cockle.
These fossil sea urchins are preserved by a very hard rock called flint. They can be found on almost any pebbly beach along the Jurassic Coast… but they are very hard to spot and are the rarest of the fossils shown here.