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Jurassic Coast project to monitor fossil hunting damage

The summer is upon us and along the 95 mile stretch of Jurassic Coast in Dorset and Devon on England's south coast will come thousands of fossil hunters from around the world hopeful of taking home a treasure or two.

Many visitors clamber along with hammers in hand determined to chip their souvenirs out of the cliff face but they potentially do untold damage to the World Heritage Site.

Over the coming months, experts from Bournemouth University’s Environmental and Geographical Sciences Group will use a sophisticated laser scanning technique to monitor this form of erosion to see just how much damage – if any – is caused by the human fossil hunters.

Funded by the Jurassic Coast Team and Natural England, the BU project is led by Andy Ford, a lecturer in Geoinformatics in the University’s School of Conservation Sciences. Ford and his colleagues have already taken ‘baseline’ scans at incredibly high resolution of the cliffs along the coast near Charmouth in Dorset prior to the influx of summer visitors. The process will be repeated at the end of the summer and again next spring to compare any changes in the terrain to help determine whether people or nature may be causing the most damage.

"Using our new state-of-the-art laser we're able to automatically scan the entire cliff face at a resolution of centimetres over hundreds of square metres,” Ford explains. “What's more, once we tell the scanner where it is and what we want it to do it takes over and scans a section of the cliff, robot fashion, in comfortably under an hour. Back in the office, we stitch the sections together to make a very detailed virtual model of the entire cliff. It even takes its own pictures and pastes them over the model. The results are something to behold."

Potential fossil hunters to the Jurassic Coast this summer should also be on the look-out for a new fossil warden who will patrol the beaches at Charmouth to deter people from chipping away at the cliffs. Stuart Godman is part of the Dorset County Council’s Countryside Service. His role is to steer people away from the cliffs and back onto the beach where a number of fossils can be found in the soft mud.

Charles Elder | alfa
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