I’m a closet palaeontologist and have always wanted to visit the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival, an event which happens each early May Bank Holiday and features exhibits from scientists as well as talks, walks and a Fossil Fair were minerals, fossils and jewellery can be purchased.
I attended with the Natural History Museum to talk about my research on soil biodiversity, bringing along live specimens of earthworms, woodlice and other soil and leaf litter animals and a microscope for people to look closely at them. I was joined by Natural History Museum Soil Biodiversity Group volunteer Silvia and we took turns in enthusing the public about earthworms and other invertebrates. Our stand was very popular with children who enjoyed handling the earthworms and woodlice, learning about the different kinds and their importance.
Having two of us on the stand meant we were able to take breaks and explore the rest of the Fossil Festival. The theme of this year was ‘Mapping the Earth’ to celebrate the bicentenary of William Smith’s geological map, the first of its kind produced for Britain. The Natural History Museum had a stand on William Smith and his maps, with fossils from different rock layers available for children to draw and put on display.
Other activities on offer in the Natural History Museum area was sieving sand to find fossils, which could then be kept. The sand is from the Blackheath Beds at Abbey Wood in Kent and are full of small fossils from the Early Eocene Epoch (55 million years old). I helped out on the stand for a few hours and of course could not resist having a go myself, being rewarded with some shark and ray teeth as well as assorted shells.
After an exhausting day I had a well earned Dorset ice cream and a rest on the beach. Despite my anxiety about speaking to the public, I had a very enjoyable time, it was really inspiring to meet so many people, especially children, interested in soil animals and wanting to handle the earthworms. One young chap even thanked my for ‘letting me hold an earthworm’ which was unexpectedly touching. Hopefully the Soil Biodiversity Group can attend next year with more activities.