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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 20:19 GMT
'Jurassic' coast tipped as world wonder
Lulworth Cove, Dorset
The "Jurassic Coast" is a unique geological wonder
A coastline renowned for its prehistoric remains is set to be declared a World Heritage Site next week.

A seven-year campaign comes to an end next week when a United Nations committee meets in Helsinki to decide whether to award the honour to the shores of Devon and Cornwall.

The "Jurassic Coast", as it has been dubbed, is considered to be the only place in the world displaying unbroken evidence of 180 million years of evolution.

It is a fossil-collector's paradise, yielding a steady flow of unknown species of dinosaurs and prehistoric reptiles.

Dinosaur footprints

The heritage bid covers 95 miles between Exmouth, east Devon, and Dorset's Isle of Purbeck - passing through nine internationally significant sites.

Dinosaur footprints are found among the spectacular limestone coves and headlands of Purbeck and the Isle of Portland.

Devon's red sandstone cliffs include important Triassic sites at Ladram Bay and Sidmouth.

On the imposing cliffs of the Devon-Dorset border, around Lyme Regis and Charmouth, several layers of geological history have built up.

Fossil hunter Chris Moore
Lyme Bay is a fossil hunter's paradise
Rock formations have been thrust on to their sides, exposing a natural time-line, says Tim Badman, Dorset County Council's coastal officer.

He said: "The big picture is continuous access to 185 million years of history, laid out to walk through.

"At Charmouth you get the headline fossils - big and exciting."

Hammer woman

It was there that palaeontology, the science of fossils, first attracted popular interest.

The indomitable Mary Anning drew global fame to the area when she found the remains of the first ichthyosaurus, a giant marine reptile, and the first known pterodactyl.

Ichthyosaurus fossil
The Devon and Dorset cliffs offer rich pickings
In 1999, a previously-unknown ichthyosaurus species was discovered near Lyme Regis by local fossil hunter Chris Moore.

And the finds continue - sometimes in unexpected ways, as with the first dinosaur footprints ever found on Portland.

A retired quarryman spotted a large pile of them, fully exposed to view, while walking his dog.

They were on the underside of a row of limestone rocks that were quarried five years ago, and simply laid to one side, according to county council geologist Richard Edmonds.

Decision day

"The bottom side is all clay and claggy," he said. "But five years of wind and rain had washed it clean."

The World Heritage Committee of the United Nations cultural organisation Unesco is expected to consider the Jurassic Coast bid on 14 December.

It is also considering three cultural sites in the UK - the textile settlements of Saltaire, in Yorkshire; New Lanark, in Scotland, and Derbyshire's Derwent Valley.

The BBC's Sue Nelson
"This is a fossil-hunter's equivalent of a gold mine"

Click here to go to Devon

Click here to go to Southampton
See also:

09 Nov 01 | England
Cornwall seeks mine history honour
01 Dec 00 | Wales
Iron town granted world status
02 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
48 new world heritage sites
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