The long history recorded in the geology of the Jurassic Coast is the foundation of the landscape we see today. As the environment here changed between 250 and 65 million years ago, during the Mesozoic Era, different rocks were laid down. Over the last few hundred thousand years the sea has carved through sandstone, clay, limestone and Chalk to create an incredibly diverse coastline.
The formation of the landscape
At a very basic level, hard rocks like limestone and sandstone tend to form steep cliffs, while soft rocks like clay tend to collapse into big landslides. More subtle differences between the rock layers has led to the formation of particular features in certain places, such as the sea stacks at Ladram Bay and Handfast Point.
Some landforms can only be properly understood when we realise that past processes can combine with those active today. For example Chesil Beach formed in the last ten thousand years from the remains of landslides that collapsed over 100 thousands years ago. The shape of the coast as we know it now is something which has evolved and developed over time and will continue to change into the future.
A sensory experience – how we appreciate the landscape today
Apart from shape though there is also colour – from deep red to blue-grey, orange, yellow, green and white, brown purple and glossy black. The texture of the landscape isn’t just found in the landforms. It comes in the feel of a shiny pebble, sticky clay or rough sandstone. It comes in the way the setting sun makes golden cliffs glow or the how the dawn light illuminates a gleaming Chalk cliff face. And then there’s the sound of waves crashing on rocks, and the clatter of pebbles on a shingle beach. And the unmistakable smell and taste of the briny sea air. In short we need all of our senses to appreciate just how much variety there is out there on the Jurassic Coast.
Here are some examples to show the extraordinary diversity of the Jurassic Coast:
A huge natural beach 15 miles long, stretching in a windswept arc between Portland and West Bay.
This iconic natural rock arch is found near Lulworth, in Purbeck.
The highest point on the South Coast of England.
This old landslide near Branscombe hides a spectacular section of the South West Coast Path within its chasm.
These squat sea stacks made of rust-red sandstone lie at the heart of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Wildlife and the built environment
Just as geology has shaped the landscape it has also shaped wildlife and people. The rich variety of the coast gives rise to many different habitats, some of which are nationally important. As we travel along the World Heritage Site we find different plants and animals living in different places, mapping the hidden changes in bedrock below. Old buildings are another clue, revealing the colour and texture of local stone. Harder to see are the ways in which landscape and geology have guided local history, creating an intimate connection between the land and local communities.