Premier Inn has created an interactive fossil finder map revealing the best places to find fossils up and down the UK.
In a bid to encourage young scientists to discover the prehistoric past of the UK, Premier Inn has teamed up with fossil expert Martin ‘The Fossil Man’ Simpson to plot the best spots to find a range of fossils from as far back as the Jurassic, Cretaceous and Carboniferous periods. The UK is home to a huge variety of geological formations, some dating back 600 million years, so it’s the perfect place to discover an amazing variety of fossils.
Whether you’re looking to discover the closest fossil spot to you, or planning a fossil-finding trip this summer, use the map to help pinpoint the places where you’re more likely to find fascinating specimens such as ammonites, brachiopods or even dinosaur bones.
Natalie McConnon, Premier Inn spokesperson, says, ‘We always want to encourage people to explore all the that the UK has to offer, and with such a rich geological history we hope that the interactive map will make planning a fossil-finding trip easier. With the summer holidays approaching, it’s a great reason to visit places in the country you may not have been to before and discover the animals and creatures that lived here millions of years ago.’
Martin ‘The Fossil Man’ Simpson’s Top 10 Fossil-Finding Spots
1. Lyme Regis, Dorset – the most famous fossil-finding spot
Probably the most famous fossil beach in the UK, Lyme Regis was made popular for fossil-finding by the collector and dealer Mary Anning. One of the greatest fossilists the world has ever known, Mary found the first Ichthyosaurus skeleton, first complete Plesiosaurus and first British Dimorphodon on this very beach. Today, this stretch of beach is best for finding ammonites, belemnites, brachiopods, bivalves and rare brittlestars. Remnants of Ichthyosaurs still exist on the beach, look out for bones of their teeth and coprolites (fossilised poo!).
2. Compton Bay, Isle Of Wight – best for dinosaur fans
The Isle of Wight is now known as dinosaur island to those in the know, so is a great place to explore if you’ve always wanted to stumble across a dinosaur bone. Along the coast from Compton Bay to Brighstone is the best place to start, with Iguanodon dinosaur bones regularly being found. They are often loose in the beach shingle or at low tides in rockpools and can spot them by looking out for black rock-like fossil with a honeycomb pattern on the inside. Near to Hanover Point you can find pieces of lignite (sea coal), fossil mussel shells and sometimes crocodile teeth or even dinosaur footprints.
3 Atherfield, Isle Of Wight – a hidden fossil-finding gem
The star of the show at Atherfield are the beautiful fossil lobsters, normally rare but here found abundantly as complete specimens with the colour patterns preserved. Giant uncoiled ammonites can also be found, which make for a striking and fairly rare addition to any fossil collection. The area is a true hidden gem with a great chance of finding fossils, access can be made from Shepherd's Chine path or from Windy Corner, Niton.
4. Whitby, North Yorkshire – best for ammonites
The shores of Whitby in North Yorkshire are a great place to find ammonites, Ichthyosaur bones, belemnites, and bivalves. It’s known to insiders as a Lyme Regis without the crowds, so is great place for beginners to explore as you can take your time. Look out particularly for ammonites, they are so common here that they feature in the town crest and are locally known as ‘snakestones’ as snake heads used to be commonly carved on them.
5. Warden Point, Isle of Sheppey – best for sharks’ teeth
On the Isle of Sheppey you’ll find an abundance of shells, including gastropods and bivalves, turtles and even bird bones preserved in the small nodules (rock-like spherical encasings that are dull grey in colour). The area is especially good for finding sharks’ teeth, which can be easily spotted and come in a range of colours.
6. Barton, Hampshire – best for fossils of sea snails
On the Barton coast you’ll find cliffs where the Barton Clay, famous for its variation of fossil shells, is exposed. The most notable are the large and well-preserved gastropods (also known as sea snails) which can be found within the small cliffs of clay. The snails can be quite ornate and there are many types, so there’s a great chance you’ll find some.
7. Folkestone, Kent – best for a range of ammonite
Beautifully preserved small ammonites with iridescent shells can be found amongst the base of the cliffs and the boulders of the Folkestone coastline. It’s a great place for ammonite fans as there are a variety of shapes and sizes. You can even find some uncoiled or even straight, which is an impressive fossil-find. There are also belemnites, bivalves and small fossil crabs, usually just the carapace (top shell) preserved in small nodules.
8. Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex – great for families
A great spot for finding snail shell fossils, Walton-on-the-Naze is home to the fairly hard-to-find whelk shell ‘Neptunea contraria’ which coils the other way round to most gastropods. A lovely place for a family trip fossil-hunting, you can also find bivalves and occasionally older sharks teeth, sometimes very large, on the shore.
9. Speeton, Yorkshire – famous for the Speeton ‘shrimp’
If you’re looking to complete a fossil bucket list then you’ll need to visit Speeton in Yorkshire. Here you may be lucky enough to find the Speeton ‘shrimp’, a type of lobster. You can also find fascinating ammonites, bivalves, belemnites and small crustaceans here.
10. Castleton, Derbyshire – best non-coastal location
The only non-coastal locations in the list, the area around Castleton in the Peak District is a classic site for Carboniferous shells including brachiopods, bivalves and goniatites. Site of numerous caverns, it’s a great place to visit if you want to couple a beautiful walk with geological discoveries.
Fossil Types Glossary:
- Ammonites: ancient, squid like creatures that lived in an external shell, usually spiral
- Belemnites: bullet like fossils which were the internal shell of a squid like creature, rather like a cuttlefish 'bone'. They are very common
- Gastropods: land, freshwater or marine snails, coming in a variety of shapes
- Bivalves: two-shelled animals including mussels, cockles, oysters and clams
- Sharks teeth: common fossils as one shark can produce thousands of teeth and the skeleton is made of cartilage so does not preserve well
- Iguanodon: a three-toed vegetarian dinosaur that was up to 9m long. Its footprints are found on the Isle of Wight, Hastings and Swanage
- Ichthyosaurs: fish lizards that looked similar to dolphins. Popularly known as sea dragons
Collecting Fossils Guidelines:
- Many fossil-finding sites are coastal ones, so care should be taken to visit on falling tides.
- It is not necessary to hammer cliffs, as enough fossils can be found loose in fallen blocks or weathered out loose at low tide. Care should be taken near sheer cliffs.
- Be prepared with bags, newspaper and boxes to collect what you find and try to leave a bit of the surrounding rock to protect the fossil, this will also help identify the type of bed it's from.
- If you think you have something unusual take it to your local museum or email the Natural History Museum London for identification.
- Sometimes fossils may be obvious, but do keep an eye out for things enclosed in rock, like the tip of an iceberg.
- Unusual symmetrical shapes are a good sign to look out form, fossils are often found in round or oval nodules. You can tell by the indication of something sticking out.
- Beaches listed are accessible but permission is required if you choose to fossil-hunt on private land or to dig in situ for larger fossils.