Dinosaur Trackways Frozen in Time get Protection

Dinosaur footprints are to receive special protection and status under a UK Government scheme.

As motorists drive down the M40 motorway heading towards London, few realise that as they pass through Oxfordshire, they are driving close to a series of working quarries that hold a very special secret.  Preserved amongst the fossils to be found in the sedimentary strata are dinosaur footprints, not just one or two but lengthy trackways made by dinosaurs preserved as if they had been created yesterday.

Dinosaur Footprints

In an announcement made today (19/01/2010), Natural England, the UK Government’s advisory body on the natural environment, stated that the dinosaur footprints and trackways at Ardley, near Bicester in Oxfordshire (England) had been notified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

This is the first location in the United Kingdom to be granted Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status based purely on geological features, since Natural England was founded four years ago.  Following this official announcement, there is to be a four month consultation period to allow public responses before the Board of Natural England will confirm the designation.

The working quarries at Ardley reflect a range of geological strata, laid down in the Middle Jurassic approximately 165 million years ago (Bathonian faunal stage).  There are a succession of marls, limestones, clays, mudstones and occasional sandstones, each layer of rock representing different environmental conditions during deposition.  Invertebrate fossils are relatively common, but vertebrate fossils are exceptionally rare.  The strata containing the dinosaur trackways suggest deposition in low tidal energy, lagoonal environments with a subtropical climate.

Walking Close to the Shoreline

The dinosaurs walked close to the shoreline and the soft sediments have preserved their coming and goings.  The picture shows the tracks made by a bipedal meat-eating dinosaur (megalosaur?)  The right foot is the closest in the picture.  Trackways are known as trace fossils, they record behaviour and are made in situ, for example, sometime 165 million years ago, a large meat-eating dinosaur walked across the very ground that you can stand on today to observe the foot prints.

Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, commented:

“Geological sites of this quality and importance are few and far between and we are delighted to give this important window on our past the protection that it so clearly deserves.”

Such extensive and relatively complete dinosaur trackways are otherwise unknown in England and are very rare internationally.  Research conducted over the last decade has revealed important information about these dinosaurs and even shed light on the speed at which the creatures were travelling.  Importantly, a number of different genera are represented by the prints.

It is now important to protect the trackways from exposure to the elements and damage from erosion and the decision by Natural England to designate the site will help secure its unique features for future generations to study and enjoy.  Natural England is pleased to be working closely with the site owners and operators to ensure that the trackways are carefully preserved and made accessible for scientific study.

Helen Phillips concluded:

“As a Site of Special Scientific Interest, these unique dinosaur footprints now join the ranks of England’s most important wildlife and geological conservation sites.  It is important that we continue to look after internationally valuable resources of this type and protect such fascinating insights into our ancient past.”

Visit Everything Dinosaur’s website: The Website of Everything Dinosaur.

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