I have always been curious about footprints and trackways made by prehistoric animals, especially dinosaurs, due to the concept that the ground has captured the process of an animal, which is now long dead and their species extinct. I find it even more exciting when the creature that made the tracks is not known from physical remains, as it allows the opportunity for absolutely anyone subsequently to discover bones or even skeletons which can be associated with the preserved trace fossils. An ichnogenus (a genus only known from trace fossils) can be identified, but the actual physical profile of the animal remains a mystery.
I’ve known for many years that, not far from the town of Barry in South Wales, there are trackways made by different dinosaur genera and sizes at Bendrick Rock. As a student studying less than 30km away, it would soon be a place I would explore as the workload calmed after my first year in 2015. On scanning the ground when visiting for the first time, I knew all I needed to do was find that first print with the iconic ‘three toes’ or tridactyl track. After that, every depression I could see was a footprint. The opportunity of being able to put my hand down on the same bit of ground on which a dinosaur had walked about 200mya, which no one has any idea what it looked like, was, for me, extraordinary.
One of the largest of the tridactyl footprints was 30cm in length, which suggests that the individual theropod (associated with Anchisauripus) would have been approximately 1.8m tall. Although, with no skeletal remains to go on, this could be completely inaccurate. The four-toed footprints (tetradactyl) have been assigned to the ichnogenus, Pseudotetrasauropus. Little is known about the dinosaurs and reptiles that lived in Wales during the entire length of the Mesozoic. However, its secrets are slowly being unveiled, with other discoveries other than the Bendrick Rock trackway. The announcement of the first theropod dinosaur skeleton earlier this year is a significant discovery for Welsh dinosaurs. However, while we wait for more information about this new specimen, Wales does have one species described from several years ago, known as Pantydraco caducus. Even so, there have been disagreements about what taxon it actually belongs to. This means that, just because a dinosaur has been named, this doesn’t always mean we actually know a lot about it. However, what we do know is that the two species are from the same time period of the late Triassic and may have shared the same environment.
Despite the obvious wonders of secret Welsh dinosaurs, what remains we do have are at risk. The theft of prints at Bendrick Rock is illegal and a threat to such national treasures. This links in with vandalism, which is always a potential threat from those who disregard such rarely preserved examples of dinosaur life. Some prints have been found to be filled in with plaster by those attempting to make casts and there is the possibility that barbeques taking place on the coast could be potentially damaging.
In the past, the National Museum Wales has removed prints to prevent them from being damaged and lost forever. However, I personally think it is refreshing to visit the actual place where dinosaurs once lived and see the traces they have left behind of their behaviour, rather than looking at specimens behind glass at a museum. It brings extinct creatures a little closer to life, especially when you can put your foot in the same place as that of a secret dinosaur. But what is incredibly important to remember is to have respect for such trackways. An extinct animal cannot make new footprints, if the ones preserved are damaged. If they go, they are gone forever. Considering how little we know about these particular dinosaurs, it would be horrendous to lose what little has been discovered.