Fossil Collecting Codes

The Jurassic Coast Trust supports a pair of key initiatives designed to promote responsible fossil collecting along the Jurassic Coast.

The first of these is the West Dorset Fossil Collecting Code of Conduct and Fossil Recording Scheme, and the recently published Undercliffs National Nature Reserve Fossil Code.

Both of these codes were produced in collaboration with a number of stakeholders, and are designed to strengthen cooperation and communication between those with an interest in fossils from this spectacular World Heritage Site.

The Fossil Collecting Codes, though specifically aimed at experienced collectors, are relevant to everyone and are a key tool to safeguard the scientific heritage of the Jurassic Coast’s fossils.

Fossilised ammonites in the "Slabs" in the Undercliffs National Nature Reserve, one of the features that the Undercliffs Fossil Code helps to protect. © Bella Ormerod

Beyond West Dorset and the Undercliffs

In general, for the whole of the World Heritage Site, the Jurassic Coast Trust promotes a site-based approach to managing fossil collecting.  This reflects the very varied conditions that exist along such a diverse coastline. Some places can withstand or even benefit from ongoing active collecting (see the fossil codes above).

Others are far more vulnerable. And although the shoreline of the Jurassic Coast is mostly open access there are some restrictions. For example, parts of the Fleet shore are reserved wholly for wildlife, whilst the Smedmore Estate, who own the land around Kimmeridge Bay, have signs that explicitly give notice to visitors that fossil collecting is not allowed on their land without permission.

Then of course there are the MOD ranges at Straight Point, Chickerell and Lulworth, where access is wholly restricted while firing is in progress.

Natural England, the UK government’s advisors for the natural environment in England, provide some basic guidelines for responsible fossil collecting that apply anywhere along the Jurassic Coast. They can be summarised as:

  • Collect only a few specimens from fallen or loose material.
  • Collection of in situ specimens should focus on scientific needs and is likely to require permission.
  • Always record details about where the fossil was found, the more the better.
  • Check if collecting tools are permitted and only use them when it’s absolutely necessary
  • Always avoid disturbance to wildlife, be aware of other people and leave the site in a tidy and safe condition.
  • Seek further advice on specimen identification and care if needed.
  • Ideally, scientifically important specimens should eventually go to a suitable museum where they can be available for further study.

Jurassic Coast Fossil Warden

In order to help bring the message of responsible fossil collecting out onto the beaches of the World Heritage Site, the Jurassic Coast Trust employs a Fossil Warden during the busy school holiday period.

Our current Fossil Warden is Stuart Godman. He covers the coast between Lyme Regis and Charmouth where fossil hunting is a popular activity. 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.

Stuart’s position is part-funded by the National Trust, Lyme Regis Town Council, and Charmouth Parish Council.

Stuart Godman, Jurassic Coast Fossil Warden. © Sam Rose