Stay safe at the coast - beware of landslips and rock falls
This coastline is a result of erosion - making it the beautiful, interesting and internationally important place that it's famous for. However, erosion can cause rock falls and landslides, these are natural events that can happen at any time.
There's always a small element of risk when visiting Dorset's Jurassic Coast (opens in a new window), or any coast with cliffs for that matter. This should not, and does not, put people off visiting the area but you should use common sense and caution and pay attention to messages and signs about how to stay safe.
Common sense safety advice
Cliffs are NOT a playground for children.
- Do not take unnecessary risks, stay away from the edge of the cliff top
- Stay away from the base of cliffs: rock falls can happen at any time
- Do not walk or climb over landslide or rock fall debris, especially during and after wet weather as it is easy to get stuck in mud and quicksand
- Always pay attention to warning signs; they are there to advise you on how to stay safe
- Check the weather forecast before you go
- Beware of steep, shelving beaches and large waves
- Be aware of tide times. The sea comes in and out twice a day and it is possible to get cut off by the incoming tide or forced up against the cliffs. See the BBC - Tide times (opens in a new window) for the latest information.
- If you are interested in fossils, do not hammer into the cliffs or solid rock as this will cause long lasting damage.
The best fossils are found on the beaches where the sea has done all the hard work washing them from the mudslides. There is always a chance that you will find something truly amazing!
Landslides tend to take place after wet weather as there is a delay in the rainwater falling and soaking into the ground. Cliffs that have clays at the base and porous sandstone or limestone at the top are prone to landslides because the water soaks down through the cliff top but cannot pass through the clay. The water builds up, lubricating the clay surface and that is what triggers a landslide.
Landslides usually occur with some warning such as cracks opening up in the cliff top or small amounts of rock falling from the terraced cliffs. Once they start they can move very quickly and displace hundreds of thousands of tonnes of rock, clay and sand onto the beaches. For days, weeks and even months after the event, this may block the beach, especially at high tide and can contain treacherous mudslides and quick sands; it is all too easy to get stuck!
Rock falls can happen at any time with no warning. They are usually the result of the sea eroding the base of the cliff to the point where the rocks can no longer support themselves. They are impossible to predict but, thankfully, large rock falls are quite rare! However, it is an unnecessary risk to walk, sit or search for fossils at the base of the cliffs. It only takes one rock to cause serious injury or death.
Fresh, loose rock or clay on the beach or scattered in the cliff is evidence of movement. Stay away.
On the coast path
Both rock falls and landslides can cut off the South West Coast Path (opens in a new window) so it has to be closed until a new route can be arranged with the landowner. Coast path diversion signs will show you an alternative route until the problem can be resolved.
Who to contact in case of an emergency
Should you believe there is an urgent need to inform public agencies of a dangerous cliff please contact the Maritime Coastguard Watchroom via 999.