A £200m dinosaur centre is proposed for cement works

Brian Smith, Jane Blyth and Ardingly students digging for dinosaurs ENGSUS00120140602084819
Brian Smith, Jane Blyth and Ardingly students digging for dinosaurs ENGSUS00120140602084819

AMBITIOUS plans are being drawn up to build a dinosaur centre in the heart of Sussex.

And one of the areas being pinpointed for building the £200 million centre – which aims to include a Jurassic Park-style dome – is at the former Shoreham cement works site.

The scheme is the brainchild of paleontologist and geologist Brian Smith, 52, who has formed a new organisation – the British Dinosaur Trust – with two other directors following dinosaur remains he discovered at Ardingly College last year.

Brian, from Henfield, said that the Eden Project-style dome would recreate the planet as it was 150 million years ago. “It would be like walking with dinosaurs.”

He hopes the project will attract lottery funding and also aims to set up a crowdfunding scheme.

But, he says, the ambitious project ‘will take a few years in the planning’. Initially, he hopes to build public interest and to encourage community citizen science projects to set up dinosaur digs involving local schools and district councils.

Brian said: “From a very early age I have been interested in fossils. Whenever I am visiting a place I’m always interested in what the rocks are and what I might find inside them.”

Among recent discoveries is some amber – containing pollen and possibly an insect – on a dig in Dorking which is now being examined at the Natural History Museum.

Once, during excavations at Rocky Road in Haywards Heath for the building of a roundabout, Brian found some 130-140 million-year-old fish bones.

He says many housing estates in Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill are built on top of dinosaurs: ‘In fact we’re all living on top of them.”

He wants to encourage members of the public to do their bit to find out what’s beneath their feet. “People dig things up and they probably don’t even realise what they have found. If we could get people to think about what they are digging up even when they are doing their gardens, we could find out more.”

When dinosaurs roamed the earth, ‘it was all land’, said Brian. “You could walk to Australia from England. There was a Mediterranean climate with plants, cycads and evergreens.”

Brian is currently undertaking an MPhil part time at Birkbeck College and one of his supervisors works at the Natural History Museum. “I am hoping to get him on side.”

Brian hit the headlines last year when he discovered 140 million year old dinosaur fossils while builders were excavating rubble under a new boarding house being built at Ardingly College.

Scientists from Imperial College in London were called in and verified the finds.

Brian said: “In the rocks in the excavated rubble we saw many freshwater snails, bivalves and plant remains.

“Later that year I also found several bones, believed to be from a dinosaur and a turtle that are 130-140 million years old. Since then we have found more rocks with teeth, scales and bone fragments.”

Dr Jane Blythe, Ardingly College’s head of biology, said at the time: “Uncovering dinosaur remains just a stone’s throw from our biology labs has presented a unique and exciting opportunity for our students to experience first-hand the thrill and excitement of scientific discovery in its truest form.

“I feel very privileged to be working alongside Brian, our resident fossil-hunter, who initially discovered the remains, and to have such expert help and advice from Dr Maidment from Imperial College, London.”

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