Fossil hunting is one of those brilliant and often overlooked activities that we can indulge in not too far from home and as long as you don’t mind getting a little bit dirty, it can be great fun. Inspired by the news last week that 17 metre long dinosaur fossil Misty was sold for an eye watering £400,000 at auction, we at Sykes decided to take a look at how we can find fossils on our home turf and ways that this palaeontologist activity can be enjoyed on a UK family holiday!
What are fossils?
Fossils are preserved plants and animals, often used by geologists and palaeontologists as evidence to explore life millions of years ago. There are two types of fossil: Body Fossils and Trace Fossils. Body fossils are fossils of the body of an animal, whereas Trace fossils relate to the tracks or footprints that an animal will have made. Many people think that fossils are bones, when in fact they rocks. These rocks are created when an animal or plant is buried quickly by mud or sand, creating an almost tomb around the animal; water will have then filled up the spaces between the animal and the mud or sand that surrounds it. After a time the water will have dissolved the natural material (bones, leaves etc) leaving minerals behind. Over time these minerals will have become rocks, meaning that what was once a bone or a plant is now a rock. This is a fossil.
How can we find fossils?
Whilst taking a stroll along one of Britain’s beaches may mean that you come up trumps with a fossilised discovery, one of the best ways to be sure that you can see some fossils is by joining a tour guide on a fossil walk. These tour guides will know all of the best places to seek out a prehistoric discovery and will give you loads of information about the area whilst doing so. Lyme Regis museum in Dorset provides regular fossil walks, and the price of a walk also includes free access to the museum where you are able to see displays of rare fossils. For those serious about fossil finding, some specialist equipment may be necessary; sturdy shoes for when walking over rocky areas, a strong bag for somewhere safe to store anything you might find and also a magnifying glass to be able to see the details of smaller fossils.
Where are the best places to find fossils in the UK?
From the bottom of England in Dorset, to the top of Scotland in Helmsdale, the UK’s coastlines are full of places to hunt for fossils which means that you never have to travel far to take a step back in time and discover what inhabited England millions of years ago. Based on its name, there’s no surprise that The Jurassic Coast is a great place to go on a fossil hunt. The rocky coast was formed over 185 million years, so a variety of rock forms can be seen here, and often a lot of interesting fossils can be found. Moving much further North in Scotland, not too far from Dunrobin Castle, fossil hunters will find Dunrobin Beach. The area here has been formed over around 200 million years so has a diverse range of fossils, and although the frequency of fossils is much lower than at other locations, there could still be some brilliant fossils to be found. Due to this low frequency of fossils in the area it is not recommended that fossils are collected. Another great destination for those wanting to find a fossil or two, particularly those of dinosaurs, is Compton Bay in the Isle of Wight. Taking a trip over to the sandstone ledge at Hanover Point when the tide is low is certainly worth it to be able to see dinosaur footprints.
If you’ve also been inspired by the story of Misty to head out and find your own fossils, why not book a coastal holiday cottage from Sykes to head back to after a hard days searching?