You have seen that during the long history of the Earth, there have been many species of animals and plants that have existed some which are still alive today, some long since extinct.
Fortunately, the existence of most of these species has not gone unrecorded even though they may have vanished long before the appearance of man. We have fossils to thank for a comparatively clear picture of the life of the past.
Collecting fossils can be fun for all sorts of reasons. You may be interested in seeing at first hand the remains of creatures very different from those common today. You may want to collect fossils as an aid to other geological pursuits such as stratigraphy.
You might just like the fascinating shapes that can be found. But whatever your reasons, it is important to go about fossil hunting in the right way, in the best places, using the most useful equipment.
As you know, some rocks are more likely to contain fossils than others. For example, it would be remarkable indeed to find a fossil in serpentine rock of the Lizard in Cornwall, but in Devonian limestones of Torquay not too far away, it would not be at all unusual. Before you begin your searches, consult a geological map of the area and the regional guide published by the Institute of Geological Sciences.
A visit to the museum will also furnish valuable information. Then choose the best areas from what you have learned, bearing in mind that cliffs, quarries, road and rail cuttings, river banks, and even the beach provide the best sites.
Remember that these areas are dangerous, and for quarries it is usually necessary to obtain permission first. Make sure you are accompanied by someone who is experienced, and follow the country code.
For the best results you will need some equipment. For the most part, equipment is dealt with in another question, but other items should include newspaper to wrap your finds in, a pen with waterproof ink, and a notebook.
You must remember always to mark the find with an identifying number which you have recorded in the notebook together with when and where it was found, including the rock it was found in and its exact location within that rock.
It cannot be stressed too strongly that great care must be taken when removing any fossil from its containing rock. Many valuable specimens have been lost by over enthusiasm with a geologic hammer. Remember that a fossil can be very delicate. Think how long it has been resting there and think how quickly it could be destroyed.
If you have difficulties, take home the whole rock so that you can remove it at home. If you are searching among clays or soft sands a trowel or a stout pocket knife will be more useful than a hammer, and for tiny fossils a selection of sieves will be valuable.