By Dan Goater
An avid fossil collector has slated the failed £5.5m Seaton Jurassic World Heritage Site Visitor Centre as ‘not only a waste of money, but also a wasted opportunity’.
Geologist and fossil guide Richard Edmonds says the visitor centre, which opened in 2016, lost £500,000 in running costs due to ‘poor visitor numbers’ and was forced to close last year.
Richard, who used to be earth sciences manager for the world heritage site team, said the visitor centre was built in the wrong place – being nowhere near a Jurassic site – and that its closure leaves fossil hunters like him with nowhere suitable to display their finds.
Speaking to The West Dorset Magazine, Richard said that after Devon and Dorset councils successfully applied for world heritage status for their coastlines in 2001, the Devon authority wanted ‘something, anything really, so long as it was big, shiny and in Devon – and so what we got was Seaton Jurassic’.
“The trouble for Seaton is that the local geological story there is in fact very weak or quite remote,” says Richard.
“So, this place was really going to trade on being a world heritage centre in disguise.
“World heritage has always been interpreted as ‘the Walk through Time’ because the rocks are tilted down towards the east, so the rocks get younger in that direction, and older to the west.
“The trouble is that this does not translate into any meaningful activity.
“It is a large, overarching description of why the coast is globally important.
“Furthermore, there is very little to actually do at Seaton geologically and, contrary to the title, there is no Jurassic present there.
“And to make matters worse, the operator Devon Wildlife Trust, wanted to tell the story of the Lyme Bay marine nature reserve, a story even more remote than the coast.
“What we ended up with was a bizarre steampunk fusion of the Walk through Time, Jurassic and remote marine stories that have no relevance to what is actually at Seaton.
“And people got to know that, and didn’t come, which is why it lost so much money and was forced to close.”
Richard added: “This failure has much wider implications for the world heritage site as the priority should have been a world class fossil facility for West Dorset, one of the most famous fossil localities in the world.
“Yet, with some £38m already spent (on world heritage capital projects in Devon and Dorset), and potentially a further £24m already committed, all with the support of world heritage management, such a facility is nowhere and the collectors are left wondering what to do with their amazing collections.”
Seaton Jurassic’s website homepage says: “Please note Seaton Jurassic (operated by Devon Wildlife Trust) and the Taste Café (operated by Taste of the West) have now closed.
“East Devon District Council will be carrying out building maintenance work and will be announcing plans for the Centre in due course.”
Richard added: “While Seaton Jurassic is the main failure, the real issue is the lost opportunity for West Dorset, which is a far more suitable location for this type of research centre, not to mention the great gulf now left hanging over the preservation of fossils in the area. The authorities are simply pretending that everything is okay and that no one can hold them to account.”
East Devon District Council, listed as the main point of contact on the still functioning Seaton Jurassic website, refused to comment.