West Bay continues from Burton Bradstock, but is much less productive because the Inferior Oolite beds are much thinner and cliff falls are uncommon. Fossil shells and poorly preserved ammonites can be found in the Bridport Sands.
♦ West Bay is easy to access. Its main beach at Bridport is a popular tourist attraction. Follow the signs to West Bay from the Bridport roundabout.
♦ There is a large car park near to the beach. From here, the cliffs can be clearly recognised by their steep, vertical, yellow appearance.
♦ West Bay can also be accessed from Burton Bradstock, if you are planning on visiting the town.
♦ Ref: 50.70866°N, 2.75905°W
FIND FREQUENCY: ♦♦ – Fossils are not common at West Bay, because cliff falls are quite rare. Ammonites can be found in the Bridport Sands, and trace fossils and fossil shells can be found in the ‘Snuff Boxes’ (see below).
CHILDREN: ♦♦♦♦ – The large, sandy beach at West Bay is ideal for children, with nearby car parking, toilets and food. However, the beach can be very popular during the summer. Keep children away from the base of the cliff, which is dangerous.
ACCESS: ♦♦♦♦♦ – West Bay is an easy location to access. There is good car parking, with a cafe and toilets. The cliffs are not far from the car park.
TYPE: – Since cliff falls do not occur very often, there is little material on the foreshore to collect from, apart from the ‘Snuff Boxes’, which contain poorly preserved fossils. Fossils are best found after cliff falls.
This site is part of the Jurassic World Heritage Coastline, so no hammering is allowed on the cliff. The unstable cliffs are very unpredictable and can fall at any time. In addition, you won’t find anything in the Bridport Sands and will only really find fossils in the oolitic blocks, which come from the very top of the cliff.
The best fossils are found after cliff falls, but these are uncommon. Therefore, you should examine the ‘Snuff Boxes’ on the foreshore. These contain fossil shells, trace fossils and ammonite moulds. They are also very hard.
If you are lucky enough to arrive after a cliff fall, there is a thin layer of Inferior Oolite at the top, which not only provides fresh exposures of ‘Snuff Boxes’, but also contains similar fossils to Burton Bradstock.
The cliffs at West bay – Burton Cliff and East Cliff â€“ are similar, but, in the 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 foreshore. There is access to the beach near to the stream (the River Brit) and, 155m east of this point, there is a fault down throwing eastwards that cuts the cliff, dropping the Inferior Oolite capping sufficiently to bring in Fuller’s Earth in a cliff top outcrop. Beyond the fault are large fallen blocks of Inferior Oolite.
The sandstone (Bridport Sands) is blue-grey when unweathered, but has a thick, surface layer of yellow when it becomes weathered, as fine-grained pyrite is oxidised to limonite or goethite. The sands contain belemnites and trace fossils, and the occasional moulds of ammonites. Only moulds are present as their original aragonite shells have been dissolved.
Moving on, there is a smaller cliff referred to as Burton Cliff. This consists of Forest Marble and Frome Clay, but 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 eroded ground between the footpath and the cliff top. It yields the brachiopods,
Goniorhynchia boueti, Avonothyris and Digonella, together with bivalves and other fossils. Beneath this layer, the Frome Clay can be examined in the cliff, as it crops out in the low cliffs at Burton Common and Cliff End.
The Bridport Sands Formation (Upper Lias in age) is 43m thick and represents relatively shallow faces of a major rhythm of Jurassic sedimentation. The formation is an important oil reservoir rock at the Wytch Farm oilfield and this is the best exposure at the surface. The main sequence is from the Upper Toarcian (Dumortieria levesquei) zone. Interestingly, it contains heavy minerals of a metamorphic type (for example, garnet), probably derived from the Permo-Triassic of Brittany.
Above this is a thin layer of Inferior Oolite. This is much thinner than at Burton Bradstock and contains fewer fossils. Blocks from this bed contain the layer with the ‘Snuff Boxes’ that can be found on the foreshore. These are disc-shaped structures formed by calcareous organisms forming around a nucleus of fossil fragments. Material was accreted onto the undersides of the growing ‘Snuff Boxes’, when they were periodically turned over by bottom currents. The Inferior Oolite is missing from the middle part of the cliff. At the top, along the whole cliff at West Bay, is the Fuller’s Earth.
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 exposures of fossiliferous limestone at the foot of the cliffs are of course the result of cliff falls. Major falls like this are uncommon, but special care must be taken to watch for areas from where loose material can fall. Wet or frosty weather conditions can cause falls. Some other places such as the low cliffs east of West Bay, some parts of Portland or Chesil Beach could be visited instead. At all times, wear safety helmets and watch out for any dangerous activity in the cliffs. Since this is at the most westerly 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.
West Bay is a location where you have to work hard for your finds. 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 in.
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