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LauraGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 16-Mar-17 10:25:33

Is fossil hunting the ideal family activity?

In an age where children are consumed by mass technology and spend hour upon hour indoors, has a love of outdoor exploration dissipated altogether? Not quite, according to Gransnet Dorset’s Local Editor Marion Spencer, who argues that Dorset might just be the perfect location for discovery on both a literal and a personal level.

Marion Spencer

Is fossil hunting the ideal family activity?

Posted on: Thu 16-Mar-17 10:25:33


Lead photo

Have you been fossil hunting with your grandchildren?

When so many people of all ages are up to their eyes in technology, isn’t it lovely that children can still take pleasure in the simple things, like looking for ‘treasure’ along our beautiful coastline? This is particularly true along the now much-publicised Jurassic Coast of Dorset, where, on fine day or foul, generations of would-be explorers have taken delight in scouring the beaches for the slightest sign of ancient remains. Local people have long known about these hidden gems and the joy of discovery whilst on a bracing walk in the sea air. Now many incomers have settled in Dorset’s villages and towns for their retirement thanks to their nostalgic memories of happy times spent on holidays in the area.

Fossil hunting can be a serious business, but for the average family it is just a case of enjoying the hunt, heads down, bottoms up and wrapped against the wind examining hundreds of pebbles in the hope of finding one to keep. Monmouth Beach in Lyme Regis is well-documented and still brings fresh pleasure to visitors every year. There is also an annual fossil festival and world famous museum. Its resident fossils set into the larger stones, meaning that everyone at least gets to see, if not take home, an ammonite or two, and the constant movement of the coastline means there is always that chance of a real discovery.

Fossil hunting seems to bring out the inner child and eccentric in all of us.

Only recently, the area hit headlines when the BBC brought Sir David Attenborough to the town when an Ichthyosaur fossil fell from the regularly weather-beaten cliffs and was rescued from the bay. Thanks to Hollywood making a love of dinosaurs ‘cool’, not just for geeks, even many grumpy teenagers are still happy to take off their ever-present headphones and join in some exploration. Fossil hunting seems to bring out the inner child and eccentric in all of us. They are not just on the coast but also found more inland, where the coast used to be. With the Wareham and Poole area hosting many stone and clay quarries, fossils can turn up in unexpected places. There is a traditional pub at Worth Matravers, the Square and Compass, which actually hosts its own tiny museum, housing the private collection of finds by the owner’s late father.

Back on the coast, March sees the official opening of a new museum and education centre in Kimmeridge where the lifelong collection of a local expert, Steve Etches, is being made public. It will be a wonderful place for families to visit for years to come and somewhere to go on those rainy days of the holidays, when you hear those inevitable words “I’m bored”.

Marion was born in Somerset near the Dorset border and spent many happy hours exploring Dorset’s beaches in her youth, including fossil hunting in Lyme Regis and excavating the sands in Weymouth. She now lives on a dairy farm in Purbeck.

By Marion Spencer

Twitter: @GNDorset

Greyduster Thu 16-Mar-17 13:34:19

DH and I hunted for fossils in Lyme some years ago, but our grandson has never been there. Instead, on our frequent visits to Filey on the East Coast of Yorkshire with him, we have found lots of plant and animal fossils in the sandstone sediment of the cliffs there. He has quite a little collection now. Robin Hood's Bay is another good place for fossil hunters. There were places in the Peak District, where limestone prevailed in the landscape, where fossils of shells and sea creatures could be picked up from the limestone waste, but I haven't seen any for a good long time.

Maggiemaybe Fri 17-Mar-17 22:30:11

Yes, we've loads of fossils collected by the DC on our frequent visits to Staithes, Runswick Bay and other beaches on the Yorkshire coast. I came across some the other day in a box in our cellar, but one was covered with some sort of white crystals. It's sitting on my kitchen windowsill now - every time I wipe the deposit off it reappears within hours. DH is convinced that one morning we're going to come downstairs to find a baby dinosaur sitting in the sink....grin

marionsview Wed 22-Mar-17 08:23:18

I suppose that might be salt,Maggiemaybe but I now have an amusing cartoon in my head, thanks for the smile.

grannyactivist Wed 22-Mar-17 10:40:32

We live reasonably close to both Lyme Regis and Charmouth and our grandsons aged 4 and 7 love going fossil hunting with their grandfather, especially as they get to wield hammers.

Nelliemoser Wed 22-Mar-17 23:51:03

FGS The Jurassic coast is a world heritage site.

Do not go anywhere near the place with a hammer you could be destroying important geological record.

Fossil hunters do an awful lot of damage to such sites, which like the Jurassic coast are sites of special scientific interest. Nobody without a permit should touch these cliffs.

Forget collecting fossils. In areas like Dorset get the children looking at the whole landscape of the area and try explaining how and where that formed and then learn about what the fossils can tell us about the age of the rocks and what sorth of places they lived in.

Show them how the different groups of rocks are stacked together. Explain how fossils can show the age of rocks and show what global conditions were like but FGS leave the fossils in situ until the erosion of the cliffs claim them.

The main importance of Fossils is in dating the rocks. It is the way the rocks in that area were formed and fit together in slices of different rock structures that the children need to learn and talk about to gain an insight into what has been going on.

And if you are a creationist don't bother going at all, you will not like the answers.

Seriously letting the general public loose with hammers is seriously frowned on in any site nowadays.

Maggiemaybe Thu 23-Mar-17 09:46:19

Well for the record, we didn't need hammers. We found our fossils lying on the beach amongst the shells.

Nelliemoser Thu 23-Mar-17 18:51:08

Maggiemaybe Picking the new cliff fall stuff is OK. Just everyone lay off the hammers.
A number of areas have had really lovely fossils stolen for the fossil black market. High Force being one.

TriciaF Fri 24-Mar-17 14:53:46

We used to find fossils on the Yorkshire coast as well, Maggie, around Flamborough. But a lot of that coast has been eroded by the sea, the coastline is constantly changing.
Another point, if you go with the family make sure you check tide times first, people have been cut off and had to be rescued, especially on the south coast.