A warning has been issued to fossil hunters along the Jurassic Coast after prolonged rain across the region has increased the risk of landslides and rock falls.
Coastguard and local authority officials are urging day-trippers to the coastline not to take risks and to give the cliffs a “wide berth”.
The warning follows a massive landslide at Hive Beach, Burton Bradstock in West Dorset last week, close to where 22-year-old Charlotte Blackman, from Derbyshire, died in a landslide in July 2012.
Despite continuous and torrential downpours throughout December and January increasing the risk of landslides, hundreds of beach goers have been captured strolling at the base of a previous landslide at Charmouth, near Lyme Regis.
Ros Evans, watch manager at Portland Coastguard, said: “Our coastline is constantly moving and the cliffs crumble all the time, but people don’t understand there is a continuous risk.
“You only have to look at how vast quantities of our coastline is disappearing.
“People need to understand that cliffs are dangerous.”
The recent discovery of a 200 million-year-old ichthyosaur – a giant, toothy marine reptile that resembled a dolphin – embedded in rocks at Charmouth worth thousands of pounds on Boxing Day, is thought to have prompted a surge in enthusiasm for other discoveries.
Watch manager Evans described frequently seeing people taking risks.
“At Hive Beach there are big cracks going right up the cliffs and an overhang and I saw people standing underneath,” she continued.
“In summer, you see fresh falls and people rolling out picnic rugs right underneath them.
“I recently saw someone in his fossiling outfit heading up the middle of a landslip and causing rock falls and there are people walking on the beach below.
“Fossil hunters often say they know what they’re doing, and often they do, but it’s always a risk.
She added: “It can happen in the blink of an eye with no warning, and you can’t run and escape it.
“People have to use their common sense and do their own risk assessment. Closing off a section of beach is an extreme step and not one which is taken lightly.
“But people must adhere to the signs which are there for a reason.”
Officials from West Dorset District Council, said the risk of landslides and rock falls has increased following severe weather and sea conditions across Dorset.
Cllr Robert Gould, leader of West Dorset District Council, said: “The Jurassic Coast is a fantastic place to enjoy, but we remind anyone visiting the area that they should explore with common sense and caution.
“Please remember to pay attention to any messages and signs around the coast and not to take any unnecessary risks.”
Phil Davidson, paleontologist at Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre, issued safety advice to fossil hunters. “Check the tide times,” he said. “And always go out on a falling tide for two reasons – so you don’t get stranded as the tide comes in and so you can keep as far away from the cliffs as possible.
“No one can predict when cliff falls are going. Cliffs need to be given a lot of respect and a wide berth – especially at the moment.”