UK Fossil hunting guide

Fossils are the remains of creatures and plants that died long ago and became preserved as stone. Many fossils were formed underwater. As sea creatures and plants died in prehistoric seas, they drifted to the seabeds and became covered in sediments and sand. Over time, these sediments turned to stone. Some of those sedimentary stone beds were lifted up out of the sea by massive earth movements, and form the land we walk on today. 

At the edges of the land, ancient seabeds are exposed along cliff lines. Storms, winds, rain and sun beat at the cliffs, gnawing at them until the edges collapse, exposing fresh rocks. These fall to the beach to be found by curious passers-by, or washed back out to sea. Ancient rocks are also hidden under your feet as you walk, exposed here and there in quarries and in thin-soiled fields.  

Unknown fossils are waiting to be discovered in the bright white chalks of Sussex and Kent; the shales and limestones of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast and South Wales; the jumbled geology of coastal Yorkshire and the ancient Midland beds; the curiosities of the Highlands, and the mudstones of Northern Ireland. 

And all you have to do, is look.

Ten outstanding UK fossil hunting hot spots

1. Waterloo Bay, Larne, Northern Ireland

A tale of two epochs

Triassic (251 – 199 Mya) and Jurassic (201– 145 Mya)

Down in the mudstones of the foreshore you might spy the remains of ammonites, sea shells, ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs.

2. Wren’s Nest, Dudley

The trilobite quarry

Silurian (443.7 – 416 Million years ago (Mya))

In the ancient rocks of this old limestone quarry you can expect to find the remains of ancient sea plants including corals, sea lilies and crinoids. Look for seashells and the oh-so-special trilobites. Also look out for sea scorpions and the hard-shelled ancestors of squid and cuttlefish. 

3. Lyme Regis, Dorset

The fossil-lover’s town

Jurassic (201 – 145 Mya)

In the shales and limestones of these Jurassic coast cliffs, in rock falls and along the foreshore, you could find spiral ammonites, bullet-shaped belemnites, hexagonal ichthyosaur vertebrae, fish bones, reptile bones, nautiluses, shells and worm-like crinoid stems. See if you can spot an ammonite graveyard, and don’t forget to visit the local museum and learn all about the life of fossil hunter Mary Anning.

Lyne regis fossil hunt

4. Penarth, South Wales

The Welsh Jurassic coast

Jurassic (201 – 145 Mya)

Among the shales and limestones of this Welsh beach, the eagle-eyed hunter may discover snail-like gastropods, brachiopod and bivalve sea shells and ammonites. A complete ichthyosaur fossil was discovered here in 2014, so you never know your luck! 

Lavernock Penarth Fossil Hunt

5. Helmsdale, Scottish Highlands

A geological enigma

Carboniferious (359 – 299 Mya) , Jurassic (201 –145 Mya) and Cretaceous (145 –66 Mya)

A bewildering array of geological zones marks this beach out as a rare fossil site. Limestones, granites, clays, boulders, shales and cement stones contain Jurassic treasures including giant corals, sea urchins, belemnites, shells, ammonites, dinosaur vertebrae, complete fish and reptile teeth.  

helmsdale fossil hunt

6. Mappleton, East Yorkshire

Glacial tills at Holderness

Jurassic, Carboniferous and Cretaceous (145 – 65 Mya)

Among the clays and erratics deposited here in the last Ice Age, you can search for corals, molluscs, belemnites, ammonites and echinoids.

52 miles up the coast in Whitby, Britain’s oldest sauropod fossil was found in June 2015.

mappleton fossil hunt

7. Hunstanton, Norfolk

Contrasting colours

Early-Mid Cretaceous (145 – 100 Mya)

The orange, red and white-striped cliffs at Hunstanton are home to echinoids, ammonites, belemnites, brachiopods, bivalves, sponges, worm tubes, corals and occasionally shark teeth and fish bones. 

Hunstanton fossil hunt

8. Warden Point, Isle of Sheppey

The teeming ocean clays

Eocene (55.8 – 33.9 Mya)

A wander along the foreshore at low tide could have you scrabbling around for the remains of crocodiles, crabs, lobsters, turtles, snakes, molluscs and plants – including fossilised wood and seeds – and maybe the occasional shark’s tooth. 

isle of Sheppey fossil hunt

9. Seven Sisters, Sussex

Majestic scenery (and home to AQUILA HQ)

Late Cretaceous (100 – 65 Mya)

A stroll along the beach will take you alongside the famous white cliffs. Fossils will be chalk or flint and echinoids are common. Look out for the heart-shaped micrasters. Also seen here are sea sponges, bivalves, belemnites, starfish, mussels, clams, corals and plants (and a non-fossilised Pepe).  

Seven Sisters fossil hunt

10. Compton Bay, Isle of Wight

Walk in the footsteps of giants

Cretaceous (145 –65 Mya)

Look out for three-toed Iguanodon footprint casts and Iguanodon vertebrae. The dinosaur bones and teeth are black and shiny due to extreme carbonisation. 

Compton fossil hunt

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Words: Annalie Seaman