Locals wait months for ‘Burton to fall’, and when she does, her rich ammonite beds yield superb finds, with bags to bring home. Cliff falls occur every two to three years, and fossils can then be collected from the rocks on the foreshore or from any of the scree slopes. As well as ammonites, many other fossils can be found, including echinoids, shark fins, bivalves and brachiopods.
♦ The best way to access Burton Bradstock is to head towards the village of Burton Bradstock. This is not well signposted, but you should pass a sign in the village pointing to the beach. You will pass a petrol station in a cutting with the Bridport Sands Formation visible near the road. Follow this road round the bend and you will find another road leading down to the beach, where there is a car park, cafe and toilets.
♦ From here, we recommend walking along the top of the cliffs and then dropping down the opposite side, as this is where the fossils are found. Few fossils are found at the eastern end, as there is no Inferior Oolite there.
♦ Ref: 50.69608°N, 2.72253°W
FIND FREQUENCY: ♦♦♦♦♦ – If you are prepared to take heavy lump hammers and split blocks, or if you are lucky enough to arrive shortly after a fresh fall, there is plenty to be found. This includes superb ammonites, bones, shells and much, much more.
CHILDREN: ♦♦♦ – Burton Bradstock is not suitable for families, as the cliffs can be dangerous and people have been killed here by cliff falls.
ACCESS: ♦♦♦ – Access to the beach at Burton Bradstock is quite easy, with a car park nearby. However, you do have to walk to the western end, which can be very difficult on return, if you have a bag crammed full of fossils.
TYPE: – This is a foreshore and cliff location, so fossils can be found in both. The vast majority of fossils need to be worked for by smashing blocks of Inferior Oolite on the foreshore. Do not hammer into the cliffs, as they can be very unstable and this is also a SSSI.
This site is part of the Jurassic World Heritage Coastline. This is also a SSSI, so no hammering into the cliff is permitted. In addition, the unstable cliffs are very unpredictable and can fall at anytime. You won’t find much in the Bridport Sands and can only really find fossils in the oolitic blocks, which come from the very top of the cliff.
Burton Bradstock is rich in ammonites and there are many different species to be found, nearly all from the Inferior Oolite. These include: Parkinsonia, Schloenbachi Schlippe, Garantiana garantiana, Strigoceras truellei, Strenoceras niortensis, Teloceras blagdeni, Otoites sauzei, Shirbuirnia stephani, Hyperlioceras discites, Ludwigella concava, Tmetoceras scissum, Brasilia bradfordensi and Ludwigia murchisonae. Bones can also be found, including sharks’ spines.
There are a lot of fallen blocks of Inferior Oolite limestone, in which it is possible to find not just of ammonites, but also sponges, echinoids (Clypeus), brachiopods and bivalves. This particularly fossiliferous bed is from the higher part of the Inferior Oolite (from the Upper Bajocian). From within the Frome Clay and Forest Marble Beds, although rare, the brachiopods Goniorhynchia boueti, Avonothyris and Digonella and bivalves have been found, usually in good condition.
Burton Bradstock is one of those locations where you have to be in the right place at the right time. Cliff falls are rare and a fall at the western end from the top of the Inferior Oolite is even rarer. They usually occur every two to three years and, when they do, you can guarantee that the locals will be down like a shot. However, although most of the prize finds are usually snapped up quickly, a decent sized cliff fall can provide weeks and even months of decent collecting for smaller specimens or, with some hard work, even larger ones.
Unless you are local and visit often, you are going to have to work hard to make finds. Walk along the beach until you can see lumps of very hard limestone or cliff falls. Note that any cliff fall of just sand is probably not going to produce anything worthwhile. Similarly, there is no Inferior Oolite at the eastern end. However, worn and/or broken ammonites can often be seen and these can usually be extracted using a heavy lump hammer – some hard work splitting the rock can yield some superb finds.
When a cliff fall occurs, the larger ammonites often get buried in the Bridport Sands. Therefore, if you move rubble around and turn rocks over, ammonites can sometimes be found loose, without too much trouble.
Although it is tempting to climb the falls, these cliffs are very unstable after recent collapses, and even small pieces of rock falling from a height can cause serious injury. You should search around the base of the fall and not the base of the cliff. If you can, carry any rocks you are working on away from the fall site and as far as possible away from the base of the cliff.
With a little patience and by splitting rocks, you are almost certain to find at least some good ammonites. If the rock you are working on appears unproductive, try another. The ammonites are in zones, so once you find a fossiliferous rock, it’s likely to be full of other fossils.
At the eastern end of Burton Bradstock, there is a small cliff with blue-grey clay. This is actually the Frome Clay and Forest Marble. Sadly, the exposures are badly slipped and are often muddled up making it hard to identify any zones in which fossils are present. Shells are exposed within this, sometimes just lying on the surface. You can often walk along the base of the cliff and pick up some good specimens.
Burton Cliff is similar to East Cliff at West Bay but, in its middle part, the Bridport Sands are succeeded by the full thickness (3.7m) of Upper, Middle and Lower Inferior Oolite, and a little of the Fuller’s Earth. The Inferior Oolite is not safely accessible in the cliff, but large, fallen blocks are present on the foreshore, where they have collapsed from the cliffs above. In these, almost the full thickness of the unit can be studied. There is access to the beach near to the stream (the River Bride or Bredy) and, 155m east of this point, a fault down throwing eastwards cuts the cliff, dropping the Inferior Oolite capping sufficiently to bring in Fuller’s Earth in a cliff top outcrop. Beyond the fault are the large fallen blocks of Inferior Oolite.
The sandstone (Bridport Sand) is blue-grey when unweathered, but gains a thin surface layer of yellow when weathered, as fine-grained pyrite is oxidised to limonite or goethite. The sands contain belemnites and trace fossils, and the occasional moulds of ammonites, as the original aragonite shells have been dissolved away.
There is a smaller cliff just after the high cliffs at Burton, which consists of Forest Marble and Frome Clay. However, it is much degraded at its base, as it is protected by a stretch of shingle, which is part of Chesil Beach. In this cliff, 200m east of the car park, the Boueti Bed can be traced in the eroded ground between the footpath and the cliff top. It yields the brachiopods Goniorhynchia boueti, Avonothyris, and Digonella, together with bivalves and other fossils. In the cliffs below, the Frome Clay can be examined and it also crops out in the low cliffs at Burton Common and Cliff End.
Common sense when collecting at all locations should be used and prior knowledge of tide times is essential. Care should be taken of tides at all locations. The well-known exposures of fossiliferous limestone at the foot of the cliffs are of course the result of cliff falls and people have been killed in the past at this site. While major falls are not common, special care must be taken to watch for areas from where loose material may fall. Wet or frosty weather conditions can cause cliff falls. Some other places, such as the low cliffs east of Burton Bradstock and some parts of Portland and Chesil Beach can be visited more safely instead. At all times, you should wear safety helmets and watch out for any dangerous activity on the cliff face. Since this is at the western part of Chesil Beach, there is some risk of being cut off by the tide or swept into the sea in very stormy weather conditions.
Burton Bradstock is a location where you have to work hard for your finds, so take a good, strong heavy hammer and safety goggles to crack open the oolitic rocks. Remember to take plenty of paper to wrap any specimens.
This site is an SSSI and forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic Coast. This means you can visit the site, but hammering the bedrock is not permitted. For full information about the reasons for the status of the site and restrictions please download the PDF from Natural England – SSSI Information – West Dorset