A treasure chest of lottery cash approaching £5 million is to be lavished on two iconic natural heritage gems in the West Country.
The windfalls will benefit the Jurassic Coast in Dorset and Gloucestershire’s National Arboretum.
The money in Dorset will pave the way for a new museum to display the most complete and unique collection of late Jurassic fossils ever assembled in Britain.
The Kimmeridge Fossil Museum, in Purbeck, will be a focus to attract even more visitors to the World Heritage coastline of Dorset jobs in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
It will house the 2,000 specimens collected by one man, plumbing and heating engineer Steve Etches. Mr Etches, 63, who lives near Swanage, has devoted his life to recovering a huge range of fossils from the Kimmeridge Clay beds stretching from St Albans Head to the Fleet at Weymouth. Many of the specimens are of species new to science. Finds in the clay are sometimes spectacularly well preserved. In a world first, Mr Etches has even found eggs of ammonites, the molluscs whose spiral shells are symbols for the Jurassic Coast.
His painstaking work has extended over 30 years and has included searches of Kimmeridge beds in Wiltshire, at Westbury, Wootton Bassett and near Swindon where he discovered a crocodile new to science. He has resisted the temptation to sell his finds, conserved them at the correct humidity, and made them available to professionals.
The collection is of immense scientific and cultural importance, and the most highly regarded British collection in private hands.
Now the Kimmeridge Trust, a group of volunteers, led by John Woodward, has won initial support for a £2.8million Heritage Lottery Fund bid, including £299,300 development funding. Detailed development work will begin immediately for a planned opening in 2016.
Mr Woodward said: “Locating this beautifully prepared collection in its natural home, the Jurassic coast, will bring to life the Jurassic Coast as a World Heritage Site.”
Mr Etches said: “Each specimen is as important as the others. The last person to find one was Mary Anning” [the 19th-century fossil collector].
General Sir Michael Hobbs, Chairman of the Kimmeridge Trust, said: “I find it inspiring that Steve Etches dedicated life’s work will be celebrated in this museum. This small community’s enthusiasm and the generosity of the Heritage Lottery fund will give thousands of people a greater understanding of the Jurassic Coast.”
Richard Bellamy, head of HLF South West, said: “The Etches Collection is truly extraordinary and gives us a comprehensive history of fossil collecting on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast. The Heritage Lottery Fund is pleased to be giving initial support for plans to create a new home for the collection.”