How to collect
In general collect only a few representative specimens from fallen or loose material.
Scientific study may require collection of in situ specimens; any such collecting should be carefully planned and focus on scientific needs. Wherever possible avoid sampling the most visible exposures or those critical to interpreting the site.
Always make a precise record of the locality at which specimens are found and, if collected in situ, record relevant horizon and associated details, including linking specimens to information such as site name, grid reference and, if possible, photographs.
In most cases, collecting by hand from loose material is sufficient. Hand tools, where allowed, should only be used when essential and power tools only used in exceptional circumstances.
Any form of excavation is likely to require permission before it is undertaken.
Site management and collecting
Always avoid disturbance to wildlife, be aware of other people and ensure that the site is left in a tidy and safe condition for those who follow.
Looking after your collection
Ensure that all records can be directly linked to any specimens collected. Where necessary seek further advice on specimen identification and care.
Scientifically important specimens should be eventually placed in a suitably managed collection, such as a museum, where there are adequate curatorial and storage facilities to ensure they remain available for further study.
UK Fossils, UKAFH and Discovering Fossils have all teamed up together, producing a standard code of conduct for fossil hunting. Please ensure you follow this code of conduct at all times when fossil hunting.
Always research the area before your visit and plan to bring the correct tools and protective equipment. You’ll find a vast range of information online, but you should also consider consulting a local geology group, or visiting a local library prior to your visit. Pay particular attention to the tools required to remove and protect. In some areas fossil collecting is prohibited. Check if permission is required before visiting.
The nature of fossil collecting means some locations can be extremely dangerous. Before visiting a location it’s highly advisable to research the potential dangers and necessary precautions. Remember to bring the correct safety equipment to protect yourself, people under your care and other people in the vicinity. Do not take risks, be aware of local conditions such as tides and keep away from the base of the cliff.
Fossil collecting requires a great deal of patience. By researching the area before your visit, you’ll hopefully have the tools and equipment required to collect specimens without damaging them. Be patient and take your time. Remember, the preparation should take place at home. When ever possible remove the specimen along with a little of the surrounding rock for protection. If you make an important discovery and do not have the correct equipment, or the find is too large. Do not risk destroying the fossil, contact your local museum for help and assistance.
Your initial planning should reveal the circumstances in which you may collect fossils. In many areas, collecting goes unregulated and is therefore the sole responsibility of the collector to respect the environment. In other areas, there may be rules that govern collecting. Please accept, understand and obey any SSSI rules, they are there to protect the geology for future generations.
It’s important that new and significant finds are reported to the scientific community to provide an opportunity for them to be studied. We would also encourage you to report important finds to your local museum or UKFossils and/or Discovering Fossils. If you wish to send us a picture of your finds, please email us. You can also post details of your finds on http://www.discussfossils.com.
Fossils are often fragile, or vulnerable to damage if the necessary steps aren’t taken to protect them. There are two aspects to protecting your finds – in the field and at home. In the field, you should bring a plentiful supply of newspaper to wrap finds. You should also try and prevent them from drying out (if relevant), as soaking them at a later stage could cause fractures. A simple plastic bag will usually do the job. Once at home you should store the fossils in a safe place away from direct sunlight.
Not every fossil should be removed from its location. In some instances it may be too large to move, or would break in the attempt.
If collecting fossils in Scotland, please do so responsibly and follow the advice on best practice in the collection and storage of fossil specimens outlined in the Scottish Fossil Code. The Code may be viewed and downloaded from: www.snh.gov.uk.
The essentials of the Code:
- Seek permission – You are acting within the law if you obtain permission to extract, collect and retain fossils.
- Access responsibly – Consult the Scottish Outdoor Access Code prior to accessing land. Be aware that there are restrictions on access and collecting at some locations protected by statute.
- Collect responsibly – Exercise restraint in the amount collected and the equipment used. Be careful not to damage fossils and the fossil resource. Record details of both the location and the rocks from which fossils are collected.
- Seek advice – If you find an exceptional or unusual fossil do not try to extract it; but seek advice from an expert. Also seek help to identify fossils or dispose of an old collection.
- Label and look after – Collected specimens should be labelled and taken good care of.
- Donate – If you are considering donating a fossil or collection choose an Accredited museum, or one local to the collection area.