© Dorset County Council
Following the recent dramatic landslide at Charmouth on the Jurassic Coast, the summer fossil warden has gone out ranging over the beaches early this year.
Warden Stuart Godman was due to start patrolling the Dorset beaches around Charmouth and Lyme Regis in July, but since the landslide is attracting many fossil hunters now, he has started his rounds already.
Employed by the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Team and Dorset County Council's Countryside Team, Stuart will be available most weekends and the half term until June, after which he will be on the fossil-laden beaches full-time for the summer holidays. His job is to help people discover the amazing story of fossils, but also to warn them of the dangers of chipping away at the cliffs.
"It is essential that people collect fossils responsibly and do not climb where there is an ever-present danger of rock falls and mudflows," he explained.
After the massive landslide at Black Ven (between Lyme and Charmouth) on May 6 2008, there are risks from rock falls and also a danger of being cut off by the tide. The West Dorset coast contains mudflows, and newly exposed debris from an old landfill site now poses an extra hazard. Some collectors have recently been climbing onto the slip that fell, much to the concern of local authorities and emergency services.
© Dorset County Council
Stuart is urging fossil hunters to stay away from the unstable scree slope – which doesn't contain the right kind of rock for fossils to be lurking in, at any rate.
"The best and safest place to find fossils is on the beach where the sea has done all the hard work, washing away the soft mud to leave well-preserved fossils in the sand and gravel," he said. "This will be the case with the new landslip. Rough weather will wash away the fallen rocks to uncover the fossils on the beach."
"This new landslide will also cut off the beach walk with the incoming tide sooner than people may expect."
The landslide is testimony to the very nature of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site – it was a natural event of the type that plays an integral part of the ever-changing environment along the coast. It is this rock movement that makes the Dorset and East Devon coast famous for its geology, fossils and coastal processes.
Stuart will be based at Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre, and will range as far at Monmouth Beach in the west and Seatown in the east. Last year, the first year the post was in place, there was a significant reduction in the number of holes caused by digging in the cliffs.