“The World Heritage Site is… of worldwide importance and a place of great fascination to anyone interested
in the history of life on this planet.” – Sir David Attenborough OM CH FRS
WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Welcome to the Dorset and East Devon Coast, England’s first natural World Heritage site. Including 95 miles of unspoilt cliffs and beaches, this beautiful site offers a unique insight into earth sciences, recording 185 million years of the Earth’s history and providing a unique “walk through time” that includes the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The continually changing rocks mean that the countryside is diverse and supports rare and important plants and animals.
A PLACE OF DISCOVERY
From the early days of geology to the present, the Dorset and East Devon Coast has been a place of discovery. Scientists, researchers, students and conservationists have visited, learned and gone away enriched. Today the Jurassic Coast is visited by millions of people, including tens of thousands of students, each year. Many of the coastal centres provide organized visits for schools and walks for the public.
BEER AND SEATON
The picturesque fishing village of Beer on the East Devon Coast nestles in a natural bay surrounded by cliffs of white chalk, which formed in the shallow, sub-tropical seas that covered the area in the Cretaceous Period. Just behind the village is a layer of chalk known as Beer Stone, composed of densely packed, minute shell fragments. Guided tours are available. At Seaton, red Triassic rocks return and can be seen east of Seaton Hole.
Mary Anning (1799 – 1847), described as “the greatest fossilist who ever lived”, lived all her life in Lyme Regis, and her record of fossil “firsts” is remarkable. They include the first ichthyosaur to come to scientific attention in 1814, the first complete plesiosaur in 1824 and the first British find of a flying reptile in 1828. Professional fossil collecting remains an important part of the modern life of the World Heritage Site.
Charmouth is the best and safest place to search for fossils in the World Heritage Site – look among the rocks and pebbles on the beach when the tide is falling. Common finds are ammonites, belemnites or maybe even a fragment of ichthyosaur bone! The Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre provides displays, information and advice on safe collecting. Fossils found at Charmouth are important because the remains are often preserved in superb detail.
The awe-inspiring Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliffs National Nature Reserve is one of the most important wilderness areas in Britain. The entire reserve is formed from landslides, and is particularly famous for the occurrence of an enormous landslide at Bindon on Christmas Eve 1839. These landslides still occur today, creating an internationally important mix of habitats with many special plants and animals.
250 – 200 million years ago
In Triassic times, Dorset and East Devon was in the centre of a super-continent called Pangaea, which later divided to form the continents of today. Conditions were hot and desert-like. The first true mammals and the first dinosaurs evolved during the Triassic Period. Although fossils in Triassic rocks are rare, ten species of reptile, amphibian and fish have been found on the East Devon coast within the World Heritage Site, making it the richest mid-Triassic fossil site in Britain.
200 – 140 million years ago
This is the period when Pangaea started to break apart and the Americas drifted away from Europe. Earth was warm, sea levels were high and there were hardly any polar ice caps. Dinosaurs walked the Earth and reptiles were the top predators on land, in the sea and in the air. Creatures to be found during the Jurassic Period included ammonites (molluscs related to the modern squid) and the Dimorphodon (a flying reptile about the size of a crow), both of which have been found at the World Heritage Site.
140 – 65 million years ago
Early in this period the World Heritage Site was similar to the modern Gulf of Arabia, with lagoons covered by salt flats, and some of the largest and most fearsome dinosaurs walked the Earth. A mass extinction took place, bringing to an end the reign of the dinosaurs and also wiping out other species, such as ammonites and some of the great sea reptiles. The world that would follow saw the present style of life on Earth emerge, dominated by mammals, flowering plants and grasses. The earliest Cretaceous rocks in the Site are the Purbeck Beds, some of which contain dinosaur footprints and the teeth of early mammals!