Using Injunctions to Stop Fossil Hunters in England

The Jurassic Coast in Devon

Carolyn Shelbourn, a Senior Lecturer at the Sheffield University School of Law has forwarded on a couple of interesting stories on the use of injunctions to prevent the taking of fossils in England.  In England, fossils have very little legal protection, and authorities have had to resort to injunctions, because the criminal provisions which apply to certain classes of antiquities do not apply to fossils. 

Recently the National Trust and the Charmouth council won an order banning a Somerset man from extracting fossils out of cliffs on the coast.  The National Trust has said:

The man has been involved in extracting large numbers of fossils by digging expressly against the wishes of the landowners and the guidance of the West Dorset fossil collecting code of conduct. His actions have also placed the public, including walkers and families, at risk from falling rocks.

Another injunction was made against “unknown persons” from digging in the area.  Fossils may still be collected from the beach, but not the cliffs.  The wholesale, perhaps even commercial taking was causing damage, and these injunctions were perhaps the only way to prevent these takings.  Shelbourn notes that this “persons unknown” injunction is a recent development in the law, first used perhaps to prevent a pre-publication of one of the Harry Potter books.  She notes also that “[t]hey have also been used here to try to prevent planned environmental protests . . .  The [National Trust] appear to have had to use civil law because of the lack of legal protection via criminal law.”   

  1. Jurassic ban for fossil diggers, BBC, March 25, 2010.
  2. Diarmuid MacDonagh, Rogue fossil hunters banned from Jurassic Coast section (From Dorset Echo) (2010) (last visited May 4, 2010).
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