A LYME Regis charity will be judging a children’s story-writing competition, inspired by a 240 million-year-old pre-dinosaur footprint found on the Jurassic Coast.
The footprint set in red sandstone was found on the beach below the cliffs at Peak Hill by a palaeontologist Dr Rob Coram, from Bristol University, seven years ago and donated to Sidmouth Museum.
Dr Coram identified it as being left by a rauisuchian, a pre-historic ancestor of crocodiles, that grew to five metres in length, and became extinct before the time of the dinosaurs.
The footprint was the first of its kind to be found on the Jurassic Coast, which represents a 185-million-year geological timeline stretching from Exmouth to Swanage.
Local children’s author Jo Earlam had the idea of using the footprint as a way of engaging with children about the carbon footprint created by humanity, climate change, loss of species and habitat and importance of biodiversity.
‘Rosa’s Footprint’ is the resulting story, telling of a young female rauisuchian and her father Reggie, living in a world where other creatures have destroyed and wasted resources around them, leaving half-chewed bones and trees stripped bare.
Rosa sees a small tree struggling to grow and decides to protect it by leaving a deliberate footprint, encouraging others to walk with care.
The story, with illustrations by Mark Hannon, spans the shifting sands of time to sweep back to the present day and a small boy called Colin, finding the footprint on the beach buried under the remains of a barbecue and rubbish left by people.
Jo said: “The concept is based on a conversation I had with my Dad when I was about nine years old, the same age as Colin would be in the story. He’d taken me on a camping and walking weekend on Dartmoor, and we came across rubbish that had been left on a tor, a long way from a road.
“I couldn’t understand why anyone would spoil such a beautiful place. Dad told me I didn’t have to be like that and could be someone who showed concern for the natural world. It’s something I’ve always remembered.
“Footprints deeply resonate with me also because of Dad. When I was tired, he would say to put my foot where his had been to keep up with him. I became consciously aware of the marks we were leaving as we walked. I used the same thought process for Rosa in the story.”
The book is part of a community engagement project called Think Footprint, which includes children from local primary schools doing their own artwork and stories.
The footprint artwork has been on display as part of Sidmouth Science Festival and the children have begun writing their own stories, which will be judged by Simon and Tracey West of Lyme Regis-based reforestation charity The Word Forest Organisation next term, and prizes presented during British Science Week.
Among the prizes the winners will receive is a replica of the real fossil, printed by Exeter FabLab, a community resource run by Devon Library Service. Digital making tutor Marcus Brown used 21st century technology to 3D scan the ancient fossil.
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