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A guide to fossil hunting on the Isle of Wight

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The idea of finding something millions of years old is one which captures the imagination of adults and children alike. Didn’t we all want to become palaeontologists after watching Jurassic Park for the first time?

Fossil hunting isle of wight

The Isle of Wight is one of the best places in Europe, let alone the UK, to go fossil hunting, and you don’t need be an expert, either. Here are some locations at which you’ll stand the greatest chance of finding fossils, plus what you need to pack before your trip.

Best places on the Isle of Wight to look for fossils

You stand a good chance of finding fossils on many of the Island’s beaches, but the following are known to be among the best:

Whitecliff Bay Beach, Bembridge

There’s a huge variety of fossils to find on Whitecliff Bay, from fish remains and sponges, to shells, worm tubes and molluscs. If you’re really lucky, you may even find some sharks’ teeth. You’ll need to look along the foreshore for fossils but the upper chalk is worth checking too, especially if a landslip has just occurred – be careful though!

Yarmouth Beach, Yarmouth

The foreshore and beds here date back to the early Oligocene period, and are where you’ll have the best chance of finding some fossils. Look out for plants, seeds, fish remains and molluscs, as well as some more exciting finds, including fragments from crocodiles, turtles, crustaceans and mammals.

Compton Bay, Freshwater

With the cliff and foreshore dating back to the Cretaceous period, Compton Bay is your best bet when it comes to discovering dinosaur remains. Wait until the tide is low to visit, as that way you’ll be able to see the dinosaur footprints on the beach. Don’t try and remove them though, they are here for everyone to enjoy.

Scan the foreshore and cliffs and you may be able to find dinosaur bones and teeth to take home with you.

What equipment do I need for fossil hunting?

Fossil hunting equipment

Every successful fossil hunter needs to make sure they take the right equipment with them. Here’s a list of everything you should take with you.

Safety equipment:

  • Hard hat (to protect you from falling rocks)
  • Sturdy water and sand-proof boots
  • High-vis jacket (ensures you’re easily spotted should you get lost and/or trapped on the beach)

For finding fossils:

  • A small, powerful magnifying glass
  • Brushes (for gently removing any dust or dirt from fossils)
  • Trowel
  • Penknife (for breaking up clay if necessary)

For protecting finds:

  • Newspaper
  • Kitchen roll
  • Small plastic bags (preferably ones that can be sealed)

Guided fossil hunts on the Isle of Wight

If you don’t really know what you’re looking for and would prefer expert help, there are plenty of guided fossils hunts you can join instead. Here are three of the best:

Dinosaur Isle

The famous fossil museum hosts its own guided walks every year. You’ll need to check the website for exact dates, but the hunts take place throughout the year across the Island. The whole family is welcome to try their hand at fossil hunting, even the family pooch!

These guided walks have proved very popular, so we recommend you book in advance to avoid disappointment - either give the museum a ring or pop in to secure a place.

Dinosaur Expeditions

The Dinosaur Expeditions Centre, which is based at the site where Britain’s most complete Brachiosaurus skeleton was found, also runs fossil hunting trips. Starting at one of five different locations, an experienced and professional guide will explain what you need to look out for and how to find fossils. Each trip lasts two hours, so there’s a good chance of discovering something.

The Fossil Man

Martin Simpson, who runs the fossil and gem shop in Godshill, is an expert when it comes to dinosaur fossils – he’s even written several books on the subject! He and his colleagues run affordable fossil hunting trips throughout the year. If you’d prefer a much more personal experience, you can book private trips instead – a great way to celebrate a birthday or another special occasion.

Fossil hunting tips

Fossil hunting tips - Lizard fossil

Whether you’re hiring the aid of an expert or not, the tips below are sure to help you on your next fossil hunt:

  • The best time to go looking for fossils is between November and April, especially just after turbulent weather.
  • Don’t hammer or climb on the cliffs – most are protected and you could cause a landslide.
  • Check tide times before you head to the beach – you want the tide to be on its way out, not in!
  • Be patient – you’re unlikely to find a fossil in the first place you look. Take your time to ensure you don’t miss anything.

We wish you all the best on your next expedition and hope you find something amazing. If you do, be sure to send us a photo on Twitter!

Looking for more great activities to enjoy during your next trip to the Isle of Wight? Check out our guides for more inspiration.