Over 100 Species of British Dinosaur named in first UK Dinosaur Survey

A team of researchers based at the University of Portsmouth on England’s south coast have completed a review of current published palaeontological material and produced the first UK Dinosaur “census”.  The term Dinosauria was first coined by an Englishman (Sir Richard Owen) and the origin of dinosaur research can be traced back to other pioneers such as Gideon Mantell and the Reverend William Buckland.

UK Dinosaurs

The UK remains an important location for palaeontologists and geologists with a number of areas providing access to Mesozoic aged strata with “hot spots” for dinosaur discoveries being Oxfordshire, the Bristol area and the Isle of Wight.  Ironically, the Jurassic coast, the 95 mile stretch of coastline between Exmouth in Devon and Old Harry Rocks in Dorset has provided very limited evidence of dinosaurs with possibly only one genus being known from these rocks – Scelidosaurus (means limb lizard).  One of the most complete specimens of a dinosaur ever found was a Scelidosaurus discovered in the Black Ven cliffs near Lyme Regis, Dorset in 1860.  Dinosaur fossils are exceptionally rare in these strata as they represent marine deposits.  As far as scientists know, no dinosaurs took to living in a marine environment, they were purely terrestrial.

Dinosaur Survey

The Scelidosaurus fossils have been found in Lower Jurassic aged rocks, about 8 specimens have been discovered to date, perhaps representing two genera, although the incomplete nature of some of the finds has led to controversial identifications.  The “golden age” for dinosaurs seems to have occurred in the early Cretaceous period as part of the land now known as the United Kingdom formed a land bridge helping dinosaurs to move between Europe, Africa and what would become North America.

“We’re probably in the top five places in the world for concentrations of dinosaurs,” said Darren Naish, a vertebrate palaeontologist at Portsmouth University and one of the researchers who carried out the study.

The review, which has taken three years and is published in the Journal of the Geological Society, documents every known species and genus of dinosaur known to have lived in Britain from the late Triassic to the end of the Mesozoic and the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. However, little is known about dinosaurs in the United Kingdom during the Late Cretaceous.  Rising sea levels towards the end of the Age of Reptiles led to large parts of the UK being covered by shallow seas (hence the chalk cliffs of southern England).

The Number of Species

The research team admit that the number of species found may partly be explained by the long-standing popularity of dinosaur fossil hunting.  Britain has an active community of amateur palaeontologists and geologists and fossil collecting has been a British pastime for nearly 200 years

“People in Britain have been finding dinosaur fossils for longer than anywhere else, but we have an exceptionally large number here,” said Naish.

According to the report, which lists a total of 108 different species, Britain’s indigenous species include ornithopods such as the iguanodontids, theropods, thyreophorans (armoured dinosaurs) and sauropods.  A number of different types of dinosaurs are know from rocks of the British Isles, there is a rich diversity of dinosaurs especially in areas such as the Isle of Wight sediments which represent Early Cretaceous flood plains.

A UK Dinosaur (Mantellisaurus) on Display

UK Dinosaurs - Mantellisaurus on display.

Mantellisaurus on display in the Hintze Hall. Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

Mike Benton, professor of vertebrate palaeontology at Bristol University, was cautious about singling out Britain as an exceptional dinosaur location: “The UK has produced the oldest fossils of a few dinosaur groups . . . but who knows what might come out of China or Africa in the next decades?”

With more research in countries such as China, Africa and Australia a greater number of new dinosaur species from these locations will come to light.  However, the UK will continue to play an important role in palaeontology.

There are a number of very well-known British dinosaurs, the first two dinosaurs ever to be described were discovered in the UK.  These dinosaurs were the carnivorous Megalosaurus and the plant-eater Iguanodon.

To see a model of the fierce meat-eater Megalosaurus an Iguanodon model and other prehistoric animal figures: Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models.

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