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250 million years in the making: East Devon’s Jurassic Coast

PUBLISHED: 12:51 07 March 2016 | UPDATED: 12:51 07 March 2016

Harry Barton of Devon Wildlife Trust at the Seaton Jurassic centre

Harry Barton of Devon Wildlife Trust at the Seaton Jurassic centre

Matt Austin _

The extraordinary coastline of East Devon brings to life the ‘deep past’ like no other place on earth. An exciting new visitor centre - Seaton Jurassic - will open this spring. Harry Barton of Devon Wildlife Trust tells Sharon Goble about its history.

When Harry Barton became Chief Executive of Devon Wildlife Trust a little over four years ago, little did he expect to preside over the creation of a visitor experience like no other, expected to attract 50,000 people a year to the East Devon coast.

The idea of a flagship Jurassic visitor centre in Seaton was first conceived about 15 years ago, then the recession came along and plans fell by the wayside. Now it’s finally about to become a reality - Seaton Jurassic opens its doors towards the end of March.

Harry can’t wait: “It’s not the first time Devon Wildlife Trust has operated a visitor experience, but it’s the first time we’ve done anything on this scale. Seaton Jurassic excites me for all sorts of reasons but most of all because it explores in a new and different way the incredible story of life that is told in the rocks of our coastline.

“The exhibition halls take you into the mysteries of the past, alongside that you can experience the natural world in the present time through the wildlife gardens. The end point is the same: trying to turn people on to the natural world and it’s a huge opportunity for us to do that.”

Seaton Jurassic is a very different proposition to the 50 nature reserves the Wildlife Trust currently has across Devon, varying in size from 20 to 750 acres. Although there is a natural element to the new centre, the overall experience is geared to telling the story of what we can’t directly see ourselves - the past, the submarine and the buried.

So how do you tell a story of this magnitude? Through time-travel, obviously!

“I don’t want to give too much away,” says Harry. “Visitors will be guided by a holographic projection of a time traveller. First, we’ll transport you to Victorian times, when Seaton and nearby coastal communities were a place where fossil-hunters, geologists and evolutionary thinkers started to discover the secrets hidden in the rocks of the Jurassic Coast. A steampunk-type time machine will take you on a journey back into ‘deep time’. You’ll encounter marine dinosaurs and underwater worlds, huge sea creatures, crabs that make you feel you’ve shrunk in size!”

It’s a real coup for Seaton, promising to raise the town’s profile on the Jurassic Coast and bring year-round visitors and jobs. So why Seaton, rather than its bigger or better-known neighbours?

“The towns either side, Sidmouth and Lyme Regis, already have lots to offer visitors seeking to discover more about the Jurassic coast but Seaton doesn’t. We could have gone for Exmouth, but Seaton seemed the obvious choice as it has so much potential. It sits in the middle of a stunning valley and the tramway is a draw in summer, but it needs something year round.”

Seaton Jurassic is about to become a reality because a lot of people wanted it to, and because they didn’t give up when the going got tough. East Devon District Council, Devon County Council and Seaton Town Council are among the many funders who have pulled together to pull this off. Local people rallied behind the idea with amazing support from volunteers who will continue to be involved once the doors open.

“So many people come to the South West to enjoy the coast and the sea, as I did,” says Harry, “but they don’t necessarily make that link between the landscape they see now and natural history. Seaton Jurassic will help them do that.”

seatonjurassic.org

Discover East Devon’s Jurassic Coast

From spectacular walks to museums, explore the story of life told in the ancient rocks of East Devon’s Jurassic Coast:

Orcombe Point, Exmouth - at the western end of the Jurassic Coast, the layers of red mud and sandstone were laid down in a desert some 250 million years ago

Ladram Bay - the unusual ‘stacks’ of sandstone are all that is left of natural rock arches once joined to the cliff face

Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliffs - seven miles of ragged coastline, one of the great wilderness areas of southern England and now a National Nature Reserve

Fairlynch Museum, Budleigh Salterton - find out about the ancient red cliffs which show evidence of desert conditions 240 million years ago

Fine Foundation Heritage Centre, Beer - discover the story of the local geology, from the pebbles on the beach to the famous Beer Stone, used in construction and even for experiments in space

Sidmouth Museum - the display of Triassic fossils is one of the highlights of the story of prehistoric life on the Jurassic Coast

Honiton Museum - fossils from the inland area near Honiton are much younger than those on the coast - 140,000 years ago, conditions here were similar to parts of Africa today

The what, where and when of Seaton Jurassic

A modern museum experience of about 2 hours - no glass cases or ‘do not touch’ signs

Wildlife gardens combining water play with space to stop, look and link with the landscape

Cafe serving locally-sourced food

Gift shop

Full accessibility

Located on the Underfleet, next to Seaton Tramway and minutes from the town centre and seafront

Open seven days a week from Saturday 26 March

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