THE fossil of a ‘Loch Ness monster’ has been discovered on the Lyme Regis coast.

Hundreds of miles away from its usual home in the Scottish lakes, the fossil of a four-metre plesiosaur has been unearthed on Monmouth Beach.

The extinct marine reptile lived in Dorset’s Jurassic seas around 150 to 200 million years ago, although in popular culture it has been likened to ‘lake monsters’, including the Loch Ness monster.

Local fossil collector Tracey Barkley discovered a number of bones from the creature in the ammonite pavement within the Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliffs National Nature Reserve (NNR).

Richard Edmonds, science manager with the World Heritage Site Team, said: “They are very rare. There are only 10 or 12 known examples of complete or even partial skeletons of this species. I have been doing this for 30-odd years and I have only ever found the odd bone or two.”

The remains of the elusive reptile were extracted and Charmouth fossil expert Chris Moore is now preparing the specimen for display.

Mr Edmonds said: “From what has been done so far we can already see it has actually been chewed up a bit. Some of the back bones are completely in place where they should be and some are missing.

“There are teeth marks and you can see how the skeleton has been torn apart by some other nasty marine reptile.”

But the decision to remove the fossil plesiosaur from the ammonite pavement was not an easy one. “The specimen could not have been in a more sensitive location, in the famous and iconic ammonite pavement, and there was a risk that we could damage the pavement by the act of removing the fossil,” said Mr Edmonds.

Because of the potential scientific importance of the fossil, it was decided the specimen would be extracted. If left in place, it could potentially have been destroyed by novice collectors or eventually washed away and eroded by the sea.

Tom Sunderland of Natural England, who manage the NNR, said: “There are restrictions on collecting fossils in the NNR, particularly the removal and sale of specimens but we need to work with collectors and the general public in order to strike the right balance and ensure scientifically important fossils are not lost.”

Mr Edmonds said this latest find would not have been possible without the help of local fossil hunters.