The idea of ‘Think Footprint’ was inspired by a trace fossil reptile footprint on display in Sidmouth Museum, that was found beneath cliffs close to Sidmouth in recent years. The footprint was left by a pre-dinosaur reptile, called a rauisuchian, 240 million years ago. It’s all the remains of the creature’s time on earth, but still a link to it having walked in the geographic area that is now the famous Regency resort with its stunning coastline, part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.

“Trace fossils are in many ways more exciting than bones because they were produced by living, breathing animals and so are tiny snapshots into their lives,” said Dr Rob Coram, geologist, and finder of the footprint.


Local children’s author Jo Earlam is writing a story based on the footprint that imagines the character of the reptile that left it, doing so as a deliberate message about treating the environment with care and for whoever saw it, to “think” about their own footprint they will leave.

“I was looking around the museum seeking inspiration for a children’s story connected to the exhibits,” said Jo. “The footprint kept calling to me, a momentary step upon the earth’s surface all that remained of this sentient being and its place in the world, yet still a connection. “I began to reflect on this and the ‘footprint’ that our modern society leaves, and the inescapable truth that however lightly we tread, individually we will all leave more than one tiny print, and collectively mankind is making a massive dent that we’re only now realising the true significance of.”

Think Footprint became the name for the project. Illustrator Mark Hannon, who’s worked with Jo on her previous children’s books, designed the logo of a reptile and a child’s footprint on the earth, and is working on artwork to accompany the story, which is expected to be published in 2020. Meanwhile, the project will involve school children writing their own stories about the footprint and how they interpret its message. Sidmouth Science Festival will help children learn about the geological timeframe and location when the footprint was left and how it came to be found in Sidmouth in the present day.

Businesses, organisations and the wider community will also be encouraged to participate with their own reflections on the Think Footprint message. The project launch is at the Sidmouth Museum geology day at Kennaway House on Saturday 20th July, coincidentally the 50th anniversary of the moon landings. Fifty years since man left the first footprint on the moon seemed an appropriate moment to look back at a reptile footprint left on earth 240 million years ago and ask people to Think Footprint.

“For me the greatest image is the footprint and it’s a very simple iconic image. Footprints are evocative things.

Why are we the way we are? One of the reasons is we began to walk upright in Africa and only 4 million years later there’s a footprint on the moon.

You juxtapose those two things and you see what we have managed to do as a species in a very short space of geological time.”

Dr Brian Cox, speaking in an interview for the ITV programme ‘The Day We Walked On The Moon’, broadcast Tuesday 16th July 2019

A FOOTPRINT FOR ETERNITY – by Isobel Francis, Sidmouth geologist.

As we look at the fossil footprint, it gives us a sense of awe, and makes us wonder about a past that we can only begin to imagine. What creature could have made this mark? Where would it have lived? What would it have eaten?

This fossil gives us a unique view into a few seconds, as long as a large reptile takes to make a footprint in a muddy swamp, as it ambles through its daily routine searching for food. Along with bones found nearby scientists can reconstruct its body. From this, conclusions can be drawn about its diet, habitat and ease of movement.

These creatures lived in a time of no human pollution. In fact, it would be roughly another 230,000,000 million years until we appeared on the scene. So there was no plastic, no fossil fuel emissions (after all coal, petroleum and diesel are 10’s of millions of years of precious fossilised swamp plant remains) to speed up melting of the ice caps. Cataclysmic events that happened, and they did happen, were only subject to the geological machine over 10’s to 100’s of millions of years.

But what of our own footprint for eternity? What will it show about us? Will it show our disregard for the wider environment, our inability to understand our role in the more powerful forces of climate change? Will it highlight the number of species that have become extinct under our guardianship due to the pollution of both land and sea?

It is important for everyone to understand the damage that our ‘throw away’ society is causing. And this enlightenment needs to happen at as early an age as possible. Children after all are our future and they need to retrain their parents and grandparents into more environmentally friendly practices like not accepting plastic bags, recycling as much as possible, and growing a few vegetables. If every family made just a tiny effort it would mean our fossil footprint would be so much less destructive.

Think Footprint concept, text and logo copyright Jo Earlam, Mark Hannon & Think Footprint project.

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