The fossilised remains of Britain’s largest ichthyosaur, otherwise known as a ‘Sea Dragon’, was found at the Rutland Water Nature Reserve during the routine draining of a lagoon island for re-landscaping in February last year but has only now been publicised.
The find, which is believed to be around 180 million years old, with a skeleton measuring around 10 metres in length and a skull weighing approximately one tonne, is the most complete large ichthyosaur ever found in Britain.
Millions of television viewers will get the chance to find out more about the incredible discovery and the subsequent excavation when featured it is featured tomorrow evening on the BBC2 Digging for Britain series at 8pm.
Belvoir Castle named as one of UK’s 15 most mispronounced place names
Writer Tom Hindle cruises to Waterstone's Book of the Month with A Fatal Crossing
When Laurel and Hardy used to drink in a Bottesford pub
Mervyn clocks up 50 years as a Melton ice cream man
Top 10 films to watch over the Queen's Platinum Jubilee weekend
Dr Dean Lomax, a palaeontologist and a visiting scientist affiliated with the University of Manchester, who has studied thousands of ichthyosaurs, said: “It was an honour to lead the excavation.
“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.
“It is a truly unprecedented discovery and one of the greatest finds in British palaeontological history.”
The ichthyosaur was discovered by Joe Davis, conservation team leader at Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, which operates the nature reserve in partnership with reservoir owners, Anglian Water.
He said: “The find has been absolutely fascinating and a real career highlight, it’s great to learn so much from the discovery and to think that this amazing creature was once swimming in seas above us, and now once again Rutland Water is a haven for wetland wildlife albeit on a smaller scale.”
Ichthyosaurs first appeared around 250 million years ago but went extinct 90 million years ago. They were an extraordinary group of marine reptiles varying in size from one to more than 25 metres in length, and resembled dolphins in general body shape.
The fragile remains of the huge skeleton were carefully excavated in August and September last yeat by a team of expert palaeontologists assembled from around the UK.
The discovery is not the first at the Anglian Water reservoir, with two incomplete and much smaller ichthyosaurs found during the initial construction of Rutland Water in the 1970s. It is however the first complete skeleton to be discovered there.
In order to preserve the precious remains, the water company is seeking heritage funding to ensure it can remain in Rutland where its legacy can be shared with the general public.
CEO, Peter Simpson said: “Rutland Water has a long list of previous, fascinating archaeological and palaeontological discoveries, but none more exciting than this.
“We recognise the significance a find like this will have for the local community in Rutland. Our focus now is to secure the right funding to guarantee it’s legacy will last into the future.”
Archaeological and palaeontological experts are clearly fascinated by the find, including Dr Mark Evans of the British Antarctic Survey and a Visiting Fellow at the University of Leicester and who has been studying the Jurassic fossil reptiles of Rutland and Leicestershire for over 20 years.
“It was only after our exploratory dig that we realised that it was practically complete to the tip of the tail,” he said.
“Rutland’s motto, ‘Multum in Parvo’, translates as ‘Much in Little’ so it is fitting that we’ve found Britain’s largest ichthyosaur skeleton in England’s smallest county.
“It’s a highly significant discovery both nationally and internationally but also of huge importance to the people of Rutland and the surrounding area.”
The team of palaeontologists will continue to work on the research and conservation of this significant scientific discovery, with academic papers to be published in the future.
Rutland and Melton MP, Alicia Kearns MP, who has had a close-up look at the remarkable find, said: “Our 180 million year old Ichtyosaur is just the most exciting find – and everyone in Rutland is incredibly proud that England’s smallest county now boasts the most outstanding fossil discovery in England for two hundred years.
“The Rutland Sea Dragon will be a huge draw for people from across the country to come to Rutland – and I will be working tirelessly with Anglian Water to make sure that we bring our dinosaur home for good and that we put Rutland on the map for good.”