The Jurassic Coast is England’s ONLY Natural World Heritage Site. Running for 95 miles along between East Devon and the Dorset coast, it provides a unique fossil record spanning 185 million years.
The western end of the coast is dominated by the characteristic red Triassic Rocks, approximately 250 million year old. These would normally be buried deep below our feet, but uniquely the earths crust here has tilted down to the East, pushing the oldest Triassic rocks up exposing them for us to see along the coast.
Heading East the rocks get younger as we pass up through the rock layers into the Jurassic period, the time of the dinosaurs. The rocks were laid down at the the bottom of shallow seas and lagoons, and the fossil record reflects this. There are many marine based fossils, covering a broad spectrum from simple ammonites and bivalves, through to larger predatory ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs.
At the eastern end of the Jurassic Coast the rock are younger still, only about 65 million years old. When they were laid down the earths crust which now forms the coast was much closer to the equator, with a warm shallow sea rich in sea life. The tiny calcite skeletons of a type of algae called coccoliths left thick deposits on the sea bed, giving us the bright white Cretaceous chalk that form the south downs. These can be seen spectacularly at Old Harry rocks near swanage and the needles on the Isle of Wight.
UNESCO World Heritage Status.
The unique geology of the Dorset and East Devon Coast has been long recognised, but it was in 2001 that this was elevated to the status of a World Heritage Site by Unesco.
The site is managed day to day by a team based at County Hall in Dorchester.
More information about the coast can be found at : jurassiccoast.org