The fossils from the beaches of Calvados soon to be banned from collection?

The cliffs of the Black Cows, in August 2019.

The cliffs of the Black Cows, between Villers-sur-Mer and Houlgate (Calvados), are a fossiliferous treasure. From their marls which vomit on the beach, mudslides have been extracted, since the XVIIIe century, a myriad of extinct animals, dating back to the Jurassic period, around one hundred and sixty million years ago. It was from their entrails that the first French dinosaurs emerged, described by Georges Cuvier (1769-1832). But also crocodilians, ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, fish, molluscs, brachiopods and echinoderms. These buried worlds end up on the foreshore, at the mercy of the waves and the pebbles that crush them – unless a human hand picks them up there.

Excavation on the cliff itself is prohibited, but collecting on the sand will soon also be outlawed, subject to derogations. In any case, this is what the Jurassic cliffs of Calvados national nature reserve project provides, which should cover 37 kilometers of coastline. From the biodiversity plan 2018-2024it was the subject of a public inquiry in September.

The least that can be said is that if the creation of a nature reserve is not controversial, the ban on the collection of fossils has been badly received. “It’s a disaster for paleontology”believes Eric Buffetaut, paleontologist for whom the philosophy of protection of the natural heritage, which is the basis of the ban, is in this case “misguided”. The Black Cows are “an example of citizen science before its time. We praise it, but in this case, we want to ban it”. Yves Lepage, president of the Norman Sciences and Geology Association, judges such a measure “stupid and liberticidal”.

Rights and privileges

Nathalie Bardet, research director at the CNRS, current president of the French Paleontological Association, is not satisfied with the promises of derogations announced by the regional directorate for the environment, planning and housing (Dreal) in Normandy, which leads the project: “Giving exemptions to some and not to others is to establish a system of privileges and small privileges between friends… The exemption should be for all and permanent, she thinks, because the discovery of a fossil is all that is most fortuitous, one cannot predict who will find it. » She fears a perverse effect where the fossils collected ” on the sly “, which had become objects of concealment, would no longer be subject to the eye of specialists. She cites the case “exemplary” of Dorset (United Kingdom), where “all the parties concerned (professional and amateur paleontologists, institutions and local authorities) were able to come to an agreement in good intelligence to work in a common and collegial way for the management of this heritage”.

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