One of the world's leading fossil hunters who lives in Dorset is preparing to part with his incredible multi-million pound collection that once left Sir David Attenborough 'lost for words'.

Wolfgang Grulke has amassed several thousand specimens of rare fossils which span 500 million years of evolution and represent every continent.

His private museum, which is tucked away in a converted barn in the Dorset countryside, has been visited and lauded by academics and scientists from all over the world.

But now at the age of 76, he is searching for a new home for his labour of love.

Wolfgang has had interest from museums in China and the Middle East but he wants the collection to stay together in the UK.

He became interested in fossils 50 years ago on his first trip to Lyme Regis, the home of pioneering palaeontologist Mary Anning.

German-born Wolfgang helped a friend carry a large ammonite, which just looked like a rock to him, to his car. As he watched his colleague cut the ancient creature from the rock, his interest grew.

The self-taught palaeontologist found about a third of his collection himself and the rest he acquired by trading or buying from other collectors.

He travelled extensively in his business life, which gave him the opportunity to scuba dive and fossil hunt all over the world, and to network with other enthusiasts.

Now he has them displayed in chronological order in cabinets that line the walls of the barn, which he and his wife Terri bought from a descendant of Anning's brother Joseph.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: Wolfgang pictured with his Heteromorph Ammonites. These stunning Uncoiled Heteromorph Ammonites were discovered on the coast in the South of FranceWolfgang pictured with his Heteromorph Ammonites. These stunning Uncoiled Heteromorph Ammonites were discovered on the coast in the South of France (Image: BNPS)

Among the highlights are his rare heteromorph ammonites and a 'kamikaze' ichthyosaur which died by smashing into a rock wall while diving at high speed on shoal of Jurassic squid 160 million years ago.

Every bone of the sea creature has been fossilised and perfectly preserved showing it with a broken and concertinaed jaw and profoundly displaced vertebra, meaning experts today know exactly how it died.

The marine animal would have been killed instantly, quickly sunk to the bottom of the tropical sea before it could be preyed upon and covered in an anoxic mud, which ensured the perfect preservation.

Ammonites are typically simple spiral shells made by cephalopod animals. They became extinct alongside the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

But three times over the previous 300 million years they uncoiled and created unusual shapes known as heteromorphs that have only been fully realised in the last 20 years as more sophisticated tools allowed them to be dug out and carefully prepared intact.

Wolfgang's heteromorph ammonites are considered the largest and best collection in the world.

They include a unique display piece showcasing 18 different species of ammonite, which looks like a put together sculpture but they are all in the exact position they fell to the seabed and were fossilised.

He also has a heteromorph cluster from Morocco which includes an extremely rare 4ft 10in tall Moutoniceras moutonianum, the largest complete heteromorph specimen yet found, and a giant straight heteromorph ammonite, which measures 5ft 6in and is one of the only three or four complete specimens in the world.

Ted Nield, editor of GeoScientist, said Wolfgang's collection is "one of the most remarkable collections of fossils ever assembled".

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: This fossil contains hundreds of tiny ammonites.This fossil contains hundreds of tiny ammonites. (Image: BNPS)

Philip Powell, from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, called it "the most remarkable and exciting ever" while Sir David Attenborough wrote in the visitor book that he was truly lost for words.

Wolfgang said: "My collection is very specific, it covers the evolution of cephalopods such as ammonites and nautiluses, as well as other species related to those, such as ichthyosaurs.

"I always look for the best specimen of any species. I have limited it very strongly to only have the best examples and those that have the stories behind them.

"One of the things that makes my collection notable are the many uncoiled 'heteromorph' ammonites.

"You won't find hardly any in museums because their collections were typically made 100-200 years ago and collectors typically had only a hammer and chisel, they didn't have the sophisticated preparation technology we have today – old collections typically contain only fragments.

"When David Attenborough first came to see my collection about ten years ago, the first thing he said was 'why have I never seen an uncoiled ammonite?'

"I brought my world-wide collections together here in Dorset about 16 years ago. Although it is a private collection, we host local and international visitors several times a week.

"My book 'Heteromorph: The rarest fossil ammonites. Nature at its most bizarre', published exactly a decade ago, made my collection world famous and the whole thing snowballed from there.

"I never expected it to become so important, I was only pursuing a passion for fossils inspired by the Jurassic coast and the inspiring story of Mary Anning.

"I’ve reached that stage in my life when I have to think seriously about the collection's future, so the next two or three years are the time for finding a new home for it, a necessary but difficult process for any collector in a similar situation.

"There are a couple of possibilities in the UK and I have had a lot of interest from China and the Middle East, countries where people are spending a lot of money to create museums but don't necessarily have the collections to fill them.

"It's expensive to house and display these kind of incredible collections. One big city American museum wanted my collection but estimated they would require ten times the space I already had and just to mount the exhibition would cost $5m, not including things like packing and transport.

"Right now I'm working very hard to find an innovative long-term home for it in the UK where it can be shared, treasured and enjoyed."

Wolfgang’s collection is the basis for his Deep Time Trilogy, which was named the best non-fiction book series in 2020.

His most recent book 'She Sells Seashells …and dragons' tells the story of the young Mary Anning as she makes important discoveries in her teens and twenties – bringing his fossil journey full circle over a period of 50 years.