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A fossil hunter's dream: Plumber who spent 30 years finding 2,000 specimens as a hobby is given a £5 million museum to house his life's work

August 25 , 2016

by Shivali Best For Mailonline

Steve Etches spent 30 years digging up fossils in Dorset's Kimmeridge Bay in his spart time
His fossil collection has resulted in Mr Etches being given an MBE as well as academic prizes
His huge collection of fossils, known as the, 'Etches Collection', will be put on display in October
It includes flying reptiles, corals, shells, insects, crustaceans, ichthosaurs, belemnites and dinosaurs
A prolific amateur fossil hunter who spent 30 years digging up over 2,000 specimens is about to see his life-long hobby displayed in a £5 million ($6.5 million) museum.

Steve Etches, 66, began hunting for fossils in the 1980s in his spare time at the Dorset beauty spot Kimmeridge Bay, hauling his finds back to his nearby family home.

He became globally renowned in his field after finding rare examples from ancient species which experts previously believed did not exist in that part of the Jurassic Coast.

Mr Etches, who has lived with his wife and children surrounded by his fossils, has been given an MBE as well as a string of academic prizes for his research work in paleontology.

The self-proclaimed fossil hunter made his first discovery - an echinoid flint cast - aged five years old and gradually took his hobby to more and more ambitious lengths as his interest grew.

Now the 'Etches Collection' will be put on display at the Kimmeridge Museum which has been built in the coastal village and is due to open in October.

The museum will feature CGI screens on the ceiling aimed at giving visitors the impression of being underwater some 150 million years ago and surrounded by creatures long-since extinct.

Mr Etches set up a trust to secure a £2.7 million ($3.2 million) grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help pay for the building.

Mr Etches said: 'Academics and students come from across the world to visit Kimmeridge so they can study these materials.

'But they don't have to go to Oxford or Cambridge or to the Natural History Museum now we have the ideal repository here?

'It is a real honour to have this museum built in my name. No one else has accumulated so many specimens over such a short period of time.

'That is what I am proud of. That is my legacy, and I want it to inspire others.

The fossil hunters says you don't need to go to university to follow in his footsteps. Anyone can collect fossils in the same way. 'You can do it as a hobby and take it from there,' he said.

'And there are still so many specimens still to find. You could spend a 1,000 more years finding them.'

The 2,300 samples are in the process of being transferred to the museum and include fossils of everything from crocodiles and sharks to barnacles and flying reptiles as well as corals, shells, insects, crustaceans, ichthosaurs, belemnites and dinosaurs.
These will be showcased in illuminated cabinets beneath the projections on the ceiling, accompanied with descriptions of the animals.

A two metre long jaw of a Pliosaur, a giant marine reptile that could grow up to 18 metres in length, is the largest single specimen, while the smallest are 1mm eggs from ammonites.

Mr Etches added: 'It will completely change what people think a museum is. It will be an experience that takes you back to deep time.

'It will show you that these materials were living animals, and bring home to you what they are and how they existed.

'Objects that once seemed static will be brought to life and represented as if they are modern day animals.'

Mr Etches will also provide workshops to allow visitors to see how he goes about delicately unearthing the fossils.

Nerys Watts, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West, said: 'The Etches Collection is one of the most important fossil collections in the UK.

'It's also an incredibly inspiring story of how one man's passion and hard work can greatly increase our understanding of what this area was like 150 million years ago.

'We're delighted to be supporting this project that will display the collection in the place that it was discovered, and we look forward to visiting the new museum when it is open.'

Richard Bond, chairman of the Kimmeridge Trust, which raised the remainder of the funds from private donors and will run the museum on a day-to-day basis, said: 'Steve is an extraordinary man. He has dedicated so much of his life to this and it is a great personal achievement.

'He has unrivalled knowledge of the materials on this part of of the coast and it is fitting that a museum has been built to showcase his achievements.'



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