The remains are the biggest and most complete Ichthyosaur skeleton ever found in the UK
The fossilised remains of a ten metre long ichthyosaur – also known as a ‘sea dragon’ – have been found in a reservoir owned by Anglian Water in Rutland.
Dating back 180 million years, it is the largest and most complete skeleton of its kind found in the UK to date.
The discovery of the ‘sea dragon’ at Rutland Water Nature Reserve has been hailed by experts as a “highly significant” and “unprecedented” palaeontological find.
Ichthyosaurs are marine reptiles that resemble dolphins. They were common in Britain until their extinction around 90 million years ago.
“Britain is the birthplace of ichthyosaurs – their fossils have been unearthed here for over 200 years, with the first scientific dating back to Mary Anning and her discoveries along the Jurassic Coast,” said palaeontologist Dr Dean Lomax.
The Rutland remains were discovered by chance in February last year, during a routine draining of a lagoon for re-landscaping. Measuring around 10 metres in length – longer than a double decker bus – and with a skull weighing around one tonne, the fragile skeleton took a team of palaeontologists two months to excavate last summer.
“Despite the many ichthyosaur fossils found in Britain, it is remarkable to think that the Rutland ichthyosaur is the largest skeleton ever found in the UK,” Dr Lomax said. “It is a truly unprecedented discovery and one of the greatest finds in British palaeontological history.”
Joe Davies, of the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust which operates the reservoir in partnership with Anglian Water, was the first to spot the fossil. “The find has been absolutely fascinating and a real career highlight,” he said.
The fossil will feature on BBC Two’s Digging for Britain programme on Tuesday. Anglian Water said it is seeking heritage funding to preserve the fossil and enable the public to view it on site in Rutland. “We recognise the significance a find like this will have for the local community in Rutland,” Anglian Water CEO Peter Simpson said. “Our focus now is to secure the right funding to guarantee it’s legacy will last into the future.”
It is not the first time Ichthyosaur remains have been found at this reservoir in Rutland. Two incomplete and much smaller ichthyosaurs were found during the reservoir’s construction in the 1970s.