New code of conduct for Lyme Regis fossil hunters

The Jurassic Coast at Lyme Regis, famous for fossils. Picture: CHRIS CARSON.

The Jurassic Coast at Lyme Regis, famous for fossils. Picture: CHRIS CARSON. - Credit: Archant

A code of conduct has been drawn up for collecting fossils on the Axmouth to Lyme Regis stretch of the Jurassic Coast.

It encourages safe and responsible practice, and reminds collectors of the legislation applying to sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), under which people can be fined for damaging the environment.

This could mean digging or chipping a fossil out of its surroundings, rather than picking one up from the beach.

The code of conduct for the Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliffs National Nature Reserve (NNR) has been introduced as part of the Jurassic Coast Partnership Plan, approved by Devon County Council’s cabinet on Wednesday, May 13, and by Dorset county council a few days earlier.

It is based on a similar voluntary code already in place across the border in Charmouth, but had to be drawn up separately, in partnership with Natural England, because of the NNR designation.

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Both codes clarify the position on ownership of fossils.

Legally, all fossils found belong to the relevant landowners, but they have agreed to adopt the code, which means fossils can be legally collected in good faith – provided they have not been extracted without the permission of Natural England.

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Under the code of conduct, important fossil finds should be recorded and reported, and those that are scientifically valuable should be acquired by a recognised museum.

The Charmouth and Undercliffs codes have been drawn up because those parts of the coast are particularly rich in fossils and see a lot of collecting activity.

Because of the natural erosion of the rock layers, fossils that were previously unseen are continuously exposed.

The eastern end of the foreshore, at Monmouth Beach, attracts many fossil hunters, including scientific researchers, educational groups and experienced collectors, as well as tourists.

The Jurassic Coast Trust’s head of heritage and conservation, Sam Scriven, said: “Elsewhere in the coast there is not the same level of collecting activity or the conservation justification for the production of specific codes.

“However, Natural England provides guidelines for responsible collecting that can be applied anywhere, and we advocate that these are followed everywhere on the Jurassic Coast.”

Full details on the codes of conduct can be found here:

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