Visitors to the stunning coastline that is the Jurassic – or World Heritage – Coast, England’s only natural world heritage site stretching for 95 miles from Swanage in the east to Orcombe Point in Exmouth in the west, take a walk through time as the slope of the rock strata reveal 185 million years of the earth’s geological history, covering the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
A huge contrast in the rocks can be experienced in just a few miles, from the brilliant red cliffs at Sidmouth to the chalk cliffs of Lyme Regis. The coastline includes dinosaur footprints, a fossil forest and one of the most famous building stones in Britain. The area’s important fossil sites, along with its classic coastal geomorphologic features, have contributed to scientific studies for the past 300 years. The diverse environmental conditions, particularly the high levels of shallow water sediments, has led to an incredible range of species in the form of plants, insects, benthic and pelagic marine invertebrates, fish, marine and terrestrial reptiles and mammal skeletal remains and rare occurrences like soft tissue preservation.• The Geoneedle, at Orcombe Point in Exmouth, is the gateway to the Jurassic Coast.
Is it any wonder that the coastline was nominated as a World Heritage Site, linking it to other famous world landmarks including the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef and the Taj Mahal?
Other British World Heritage Sites include the city of Bath, Hadrian’s Wall, the Tower of London and Stonehenge. These are all cultural sites; the Dorset and East Devon Coast is England’s first natural site. A World Heritage Site is “a natural or cultural feature or area which has such universal value that it is regarded as the heritage of all mankind”.
The nomination of the Dorset and East Devon Coast was based on two of the four UNESCO criteria for natural World Heritage Sites:
The nomination was drawn up by Dorset and Devon County Councils in conjunction with the Dorset Coast Forum. The councils set up a technical working group and steering group to help with the nomination. They also had to ensure that there was a management plan and that the site was suitably protected and that the boundaries were clear. This was done by consulting with the landowners along the route.
In February 2001 an official inspection of the coastline and the nomination was made by UNESCO.
The coast received designation in December 2001, when the UNESCO World Heritage Committee met in Helsinki, Finland. Now, this amazing coastline has been recognised as having a real global importance, giving the potential to bring extra benefits to the tourism industry.
This geological ‘walk through time’ is expected to attract higher-spending visitors to stay longer in the area and to visit outside the usual summer period. Some of the ideas that have been thought of include specialist breaks, education and learning groups and World Heritage centres.