Jurassic Coast Trust Ambassador James Ronan is a palaeontologist, living in Dorset. Read on as he explains the Jurassic Coast’s geological importance and what the World Heritage Site means to him.

I have very fond memories of the Jurassic Coast. My earliest memory as a child was visiting Durdle Door in Lulworth, in the scorching summer and what seemed at the time like a long walk up along the cliff path down to the Durdle Door beach. I remember visiting a few different beaches back then along the Jurassic Coast, which included a bit of unsuccessful fossil hunting with the family. The trip ended in a quick exciting stop at the Dinosaur Museum in Dorchester before the long journey back home.

Today, I feel truly fortunate to live within Dorset and to be able share my palaeontology knowledge of the Jurassic Coast with visitors. Whether this is volunteering for the Charmouth Heritage Centre on its public fossil walks, engaging families in fossil polishing at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival or answering questions the public have as a Gallery Steward at Dorset Museum. It is great to see how many people who visit the Dorset area are interested in finding more out about the Jurassic Coast, its palaeontological history, and importance.

The geological features of the natural landscape such a Durdle Door and Lyme Bay make the Jurassic Coast one of the most recognisable, visually stunning, and iconic coastlines in the world. The Jurassic Coat is also scientifically rich with over 185 million years of life history covering the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous geological time periods.

The local area is steeped in taxonomy history, with the Mesozoic cliffs recording a vast amount of biodiversity of life within the fossil record. Ichthyosaur, plesiosaur, pliosaur, and ammonite species among many other marine organisms have all been recovered and identified along the Jurassic Coast. Being able to help share the story of the Jurassic Coast and why it is a World Heritage Site has helped to spark discussion and the imagination of families, children, parents, and grandparents. Most of these visitors I have talked to have travelled from far and wide to visit what the Jurassic Coast has to offer.

For me personally the World Heritage Site coastline sparks my imagination as to what life was like in the Jurassic seas of the United Kingdom 185 million years ago. Especially the geological and meteorological conditions that has led to the creation of what we now see along the Jurassic Coast.

These physical processes continue to this day, with the sea naturally eroding the landscape, small landslides happening in real time and storms leading to dangerous cliff falls, depositing enormous amounts of Mesozoic age rock onto the beaches which is washed out and then redeposited once again. The Jurassic Coast is in a constant state of movement and flux. It is never truly stable, there is always physical processes impacting and changing the landscape.

World-renowned palaeontologist Mary Anning lived, explored, and recovered many fossil specimens of scientific importance along the Lyme Regis coastline throughout the 19th Century. From complete ichthyosaur and plesiosaurus fossil specimens to the fossilised remains of the Early Jurassic pterosaur Dimorphodon. Many fossil collectors and palaeontologists have walked and continue to walk in her footsteps to this day. It is always such a joy to see how many people want to take part in fossil hunting and learn more about the geology and palaeontology of the local area.

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  1. Frank
    Thank you for this wonderful message. I wanted to point out that Mary Anning lived and worked during the 19th Century rather than the 18th.
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