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Dorset's Jurassic Jewel

PUBLISHED: 15:20 04 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:49 20 February 2013

Dorset's Jurassic Jewel

Dorset's Jurassic Jewel

Fossils, exquisite flora and fauna, breathtaking geological features and the remains of real sea monsters are all part of the coast's rich heritage, as Nikki Greenleaf of the Jurassic Coast Trust reveals

In December 2001 the Dorset and East Devon coastline, now popularly known as The Jurassic Coast, was identified by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as a World Heritage Site. This means that the 95-mile stretch of coastline from Orcombe Point, near Exmouth, in the west to Studland Bay in the east, is deemed to be of outstanding universal value, the heritage of everyone on the planet. Formed as a result of geological events and coastal processes, the unique formations allow insight into a dramatic period in the Earths history, spanning the Jurassic, Triassic and Cretaceous periods. The Jurassic Coast is significant as it is Englands only natural World Heritage site, while being one of only four such natural sites in the UK, and 174 worldwide. These include such wonders of the natural world as the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef.

Walking Through Time

The rocks have been tilted to the east, which means that the oldest rocks are found in the west and the youngest in the east. Following the South West Coast Path National Trail you can literally walk through time and the evolution of species, covering 185 million years in 95 miles. Parts of the coast are world famous for fossils and new discoveries are constantly uncovered, including exceptionally well-preserved dinosaurs and dinosaur footprints. The best place to find fossils is in West Dorset just remember it is better and safer to look on the beach, not in the cliffs. The ideal time is in the winter months after rough seas have washed away soft mud and clays.

The Jurassic Coast is stunningly beautiful, with an unparalleled range of spectacular natural features such as the Hooken landslide, Chesil Beach, Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove. Other remarkable landmarks include the Undercliffs, a massive landslide area (between Lyme Regis and Axmouth) now colonised by woodland the nearest thing to a rainforest in Britain and incredible stacks at either end of the coastline; the older Triassic red rocks at Ladram Bay in Devon; and the younger white Cretaceous Old Harry Rocks between Studland and Swanage Bays.

Flora, Fauna, Fossils and Castles

At the eastern end of the Jurassic Coast is Durlston Country Park, a site with over 100 hectares of internationally important coastal downland, sea cliffs and traditional hay meadows, which was designated a National Nature Reserve by Natural England in 2008. The amazing variety of flora and fauna includes the spider orchid and English gentian, the adonis blue and Lulworth skipper butterfly, guillemots and peregrine falcons. If you are lucky you may even spot a dolphin off Durlston Head! Dorset County Council which owns and manages the Country Park, in partnership with the Friends of Durlston, the Jurassic Coast Trust and others, has secured more than 5.5m of funding, including a major grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore and develop the Victorian Durlston Castle into a world-class visitor centre, which will open in late spring 2011.
Of course one of the main attractions of the Jurassic Coast is the potential to find fossils, or even the remains of dinosaurs if you are lucky! The best place to look is Charmouth, although the skull of a rare species of crocodile was found in 2007 at Swanage Bay, and last year possibly the largest pliosaur skull ever found, containing features not seen before, was discovered in Weymouth Bay. When alive, its estimated that this sea monster would have been a terrifying 12 metres long and its jaw could have bitten a small car in half!
If you want to go fossil hunting try one of the many walks guided by fossil experts such as the ones from the Charmouth Coast Heritage Centre. They may not find you a pliosaur but they do know where to find such fossils as ammonites and belemnites and you may even find some coprolite fossilised dinosaur poo!

The Jurassic Coast Trust

The Jurassic Coast Trust was formed following the World Heritage designation; its aim is to help people understand and enjoy the Jurassic Coast by supporting education and conservation initiatives to safeguard this remarkable piece of coastline for future generations. The Trust is a registered charity and membership organisation, which, in addition to making grants, also produces a range of informative guides including the Official Guide to the Jurassic Coast, Exploring the Undercliffs, The Red Coast Revealed and a Wildlife Guide which explores the link between geology and wildlife. Profits from the sale of these publications helps fund further education and conservation projects. This year the Trust will be launching a Guide to the Isle of Purbeck, and a walks book with a difference, based on geology and important scientific landforms to explore along the way. Each walk has a magnificent aerial photograph marked with the route so you have a good idea of the sort of terrain you will be negotiating before setting off; this unusual guide, which covers the whole of the Jurassic Coast, is published in two volumes in May.

The types of project the Trust funds include: new and enlarged visitor centres; fossil preparation of a 130-million-year-old rare crocodile skull; partnering inner-city schools with Jurassic Coast primary schools; special needs education art workshops; international teacher training; education materials for schools, including travelling displays and dinosaur dig boxes; workshops to explore links between World Heritage and the Olympic movement; a childrens Jurassic Coast banner project; state-of-the-art video digital microscope; and research of more technically advanced interpretation facilities.

Supporters range from the individual who enjoys the beauty of the Jurassic Coast or the family who likes to discover fossils to local businesses that appreciate the wide range of opportunities afforded by this extraordinary coastline, as well as groups with interests such as wildlife, walking or natural history and international companies or specialist organisations.

In fact, many Dorset businesses are supporting local projects through the Trusts Investing in the Future scheme. For example, West Dorset Holidays has already raised an impressive 12,000 for several projects, and other holiday parks including Oakdown and Durdle Door are following suit. Last year Dorset Coastal Cottages funded the wildlife webcam at Durlston; Chiltern Lodge Guest House is providing education packs and Swanage Railway is supplying Jurassic Coast interpretation boards at its stations. The Trust is also collecting donations from small businesses in Swanage for a project of their choice.

Supporters range from the individual who enjoys the beauty of the Jurassic Coast or the family who likes to discover fossils to local businesses that appreciate the wide range of opportunities afforded by this extraordinary coastline, as well as groups with interests such as wildlife, walking or natural history and international companies or specialist organisations.

In fact, many Dorset businesses are supporting local projects through the Trusts Investing in the Future scheme. For example, West Dorset Holidays has already raised an impressive 12,000 for several projects, and other holiday parks including Oakdown and Durdle Door are following suit. Last year Dorset Coastal Cottages funded the wildlife webcam at Durlston; Chiltern Lodge Guest House is providing education packs and Swanage Railway is supplying Jurassic Coast interpretation boards at its stations. The Trust is also collecting donations from small businesses in Swanage for a project of their choice.

Get Involved

Members of the Trust benefit from free guided geology talks given by experts out in the field, and can join longer walks every Saturday during the summer months. There are also many Jurassic Coast events, talks and festivals held throughout the year, and the Trust hosts an annual event for its supporters this year its being held at the magnificent Lulworth Castle. To join the Trust as either an individual, a family, a group or a business call 01460 242780 or download a form from www.jurassiccoasttrust.org/donate

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