Our page on the Jurassic Coast provides information about why the Dorset Coast is so special to both geologists and paleontologists alike, by providing an insight into life up to 250 million years ago.
The coastline between Lyme Regis and Seatown, and centred on Charmouth, is one of the best areas for fossil hunters, with a plentiful supply of marine reptiles, crinoids and ammonites from the early Jurassic period.
Anyone can go fossil hunting, and providing the you abide by the local code of conduct, you can keep your finds. It is actually quite important that we do continue to search for the fossils as they are continuously washed from the cliffs, and if not retrieved they will be washed out to sea where the waves and action of the sea may well destroy them.
The fossil collecting code of conduct states that any fossils of scientific importance (e.g. due to their size, the type of fossil, etc.) must be reported to the The Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre. In addition the code states that you must not hammer at the cliffs, and should only look at material already fallen or washed from the cliffs.
As well as protecting the cliffs from unnatural damage, this also makes good sense to the fossil collector, as the most prized fossils are likely to be found where the action of the waves has removed mud and softer deposits from the actual fossils, or the rocks containing them. Most of the best specimens can be found in the gravel deposits at the waters edge.
Fossil collecting can be frustrating - you can look for hours and find nothing because you do not have the experience to know where to look or what to look for. There is one very simple solution to this - ask someone who does! It may seem obvious, but it will save hours of frustration. Local experts can be found at the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre who also arrange guided fossil walks. There are also a number of local independent experts and geologists who run both public group walks, or private walks for families or small groups.
One question always asked is 'do I need a hammer?'. The simple answer is no. Some of the best and most impressive fossils for the first time collector are the 'pyratised ammonites', which are found in the gravel on the waters edge. There are fossils to be found in the rocks, but unless you know which rock to hit with a hammer, and most importantly how to hit it, you risk simply spending a day tiring yourself splitting rocks and breaking the fossils, which was previously the vocation of Victorian prisoners sentenced to hard labour!
So, as a quick reminder - 1) ask for advice, 2) preferably book onto an organised walk.
For further information about searching for fossils on the beaches around Charmouth we strongly recommend the Discovering Fossils website. This site provides excellent information about the geology, and types of fossils to look for.
Book your fossil walk with:
Charmouth Heritage Centre (CHCC)
Lyme Regis Museum (LRM)
Coastal walks, fossil walks, and Broadchurch experiences can be booked with: Martin Curtis www.jurassiccoastguides.co.uk 07900 257944
Hensleigh House Hotel. A small Charmouth and Lyme Regis Hotel, 300 metres from the Jurassic Beach in the unspoilt village of Charmouth, and 3 minute walk to shops, pubs and restaurants. Hensleigh House has it's own car park and is 2 miles from the centre of Lyme Regis. The 8 comfortable rooms include twins, doubles and two family suites, each with two adjoining bedrooms.