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Best places to find fossils in the UK

The UK has lost some of its reputation for fossil findings in past century. Rightly so, of course, there are some incredible sights around the world, but let's not forget that this is the country where dinosaurs were first named and the science of paleontology first caught on in popularity.


With that in mind, let's dive into the top 8 places to find your own fossils in the UK!


Given the nature of much of the geology in the UK, most of these locations are beaches, with varying degrees of risk, which I'll get into in each section. In general though, when looking for fossils on a beach, you must be careful around the bases of cliffs, lest you're caught under them when they fall, you must commit tide times to memory and always let someone know where you're going and when you expect to be back.


When it comes to fossil hunting, it pays to be prepared!


Hastings/Fairlight

Our first area is on England's South Coast in the Hastings area. Known more for the human history, namely the battle of Hastings in 1066, it's quite frankly criminal how the area isn't more famous for its fossil findings.


The rocks here are Early Cretaceous (Berriasian - Valanginian) and show a wonderful mix of terrestrial and marine fossils. You read that right, we're kicking this off with a great site for dinosaur fossil finds!


The most common finds here are fragmentary remains of fish, reptiles and gastropods, along with the odd plant and dinosaur remains. This area is also exceptional for dinosaur footprints if you look long and hard enough. As with any beach, Hastings/Fairlight beach is a bit of a double edge sword, since the high energy environment, coastal storms and varying tides means that new material is constantly washing in or being eroded out, but anything you want to come back to might not be their for long.

A large boulder with dinosaur footprints on it
Just some of those amazing dinosaur footprints!

A word of caution though: Hastings beach is prone to cliff-falls, so be sure to stay away from the base of the cliffs if you can, especially areas of overhang or where water is seeping out (water flow from within can significantly weaken the rock). Careful if you want to take kids here too, since the beach can be fairly rough with the massive pebbles and boulders that make up the beach rather than sand.


Eastbourne

Along the same coast of South England is Eastbourne. The beach cliffs here are a classic chalk sight that are full to the brim with echinoids,crinoids, bivalves and ammonites.

Large chalk cliffs  looking over a beach with a lighthouse.
Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beachy_Head_and_Lighthouse,_UK.jpg

The chalk here was laid down around 86 million years ago during the Cretaceous but, unlike Hastings, is purely marine. This does mean, though, that plenty more marine fossils can be found here rather than Hastings, with lots of shark teeth and marine reptile remains having been found in the past. Given the proximity to land at the time, you also stand good chances of finding corals and sponges too!


Lyme Regis

If you're looking to go a little further back in time, there's no better place than Lyme Regis. This is probably one of the most commercial fossil towns in the entire UK, all thanks to one lady: Mary Anning...you may have heard of her.


Painting of Mary Anning with her dog
She sells sea shells on the shore...

Mary Anning is one of the most influential figures in paleontology, collecting fossils, selling them on and offering her vast expertise to countless publications (often uncredited at the time unfortunately, given it was the 1800s...couldn't have those silly women thinking for themselves apparently). The town is famous since this is where she, not only lived, but also where she did her work, filling out much of the Ichthyosaur specimens seen in London's Natural History Museum.


The beds found at Lyme Regis are Early Jurassic marine, so contain plenty of fish, ammonites, brachiopods and marine reptiles can be found here. Whilst the usual beach safety tips from before apply here, this spot is excellent for the little ones, since the beach is much easier to explore and guided tours for all ages are held regularly.


Walton-n-the-Naze

Hitting a little closer to home for me, Walton-on-the-Naze is an area on the East coat of Essex (you just got to make it past the hairspray and white Range Rovers). Any fossiliferous sites in Essex are either marine or Cenozoic in age, so no dinosaurs will be found here, but Walton-on-the-Naze is a particularly great area for things like pyritised wood, some bird remains and, most abundantly, shark's teeth.

A beach at Walton-on-the-Naze
Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Uneven_cliff_erosion_-_geograph.org.uk_-_724951.jpg

In fact, while it has happened less than a handful of times, some Megalodon teeth have even been found here! The rock beds here run from Eocene to Pleistocene and make for an excellent fossil hunting spot for kids, given the ease and relative safety of the area, especially compared to Hastings.


Isle of Wight

Surely, even though you googled where the best places to find fossils in the Uk are, you've heard that the Isle of Wight is arguably the ultimate dinosaur hotspot of the UK. If you haven't, you're in for a pleasant surprise my friend.

The Isle of Wight has been consistently yielding fossils (dinosaurs as well as plenty of others) since the birth of the science of paleontology itself over 200 years ago. The Isle of Wight is a large anticline, which means the rocks are bent upwards and get older as you get closer to the centre.

A sketch of an anticline in cross section
An anticline in cross section

Some sights on the Isle are better than others for fragmentary dinosaur and reptile remains, with the north of the island having Eocene aged rocks, but there is abundance aplenty of vertebrates all over, as well as the usual common marine fossils such as ammonites. This is also a place you can still get a good fossil themed trip out of, even if you're somewhat disappointed in your haul, with loads of museums and dinosaur related activities to do.


Why not make it a week long trip with the kids?....or without...maybe don't try to find a random child to take with you if you don't have your own...


Isle of Sheppey

The Isle of Sheppey in Northern Kent is part of the London clay beds from the Eocene, around 47-48 million years ago.

people walking along a Sheppey beach
Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leysdown_Sea_Wall_9162.JPG

Searching amongst the shingle on the beach, you'll find the usual suspects of gastropods, fish fragments and shark's teeth. The Isle of Sheppey is quite special though, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, plant remains are astoundingly common here when compared to other sites on this list, with imprints, petrified wood and seeds being all over the place. There is also some exquisite trace fossils here, with plenty of burrows and other feeding traces from worms etc.


Since this portion of sea was deposited in a very low oxygen environment with plenty of iron, Sheppey also has another thing is great abundance: pyritised fossils!

A pyrite ammonite
Image credit: http://www.discoveringfossils.co.uk/pyrite_formation_fossils.htm

Pyrite (or as it's more commonly referred to as, 'Fool's gold') is a mineral that forms under such conditions and is often known to infill organic material, creating a fossil with a gold appearance. One word of caution though, pyrite will oxidise on contact with open air, eventually breaking down and decaying. A bi-product of this is sulphuric acid, meaning that storing it in a drawer may result in you returning to find a hole where your fossil once was. If you find any and plan on taking it with you, be sure to treat it properly with the right solvent to prevent this.


Skye

I'll be honest, this one could be broken down into about 10 different locations. The Isle of Skye is a big ol' place, but the entire place is not only a great place for fossils (it's the best in igneous Scotland) but it's also just...stunning.

Landscape of the Isle of Skye
Image credit: https://inspiredbymaps.com/highlights-of-isle-of-skye/

Scotland's Jurassic island is the poster child of much of the science of geology and paleontology. In fact, 70% of our geological knowledge was discovered in Scotland alone, as well as fossils helping us figure out that plate tectonics are a thing. With all that being said, there are plenty of places in Skye where you can find fossils from the Cambrian right up to the Jurassic, with ammonites, belemnites, brachiopods, fish, reptiles and even dinosaur footprints!


Yorkshire

The last pick on this list is in Yorkshire which, again, has various places where you can find your own fossils, all of which are along Yorkshire's East coast. The finds that come out of these beaches are astounding, in both quality and quantity!


In areas such as Whitby (famous for its jet), the rock beds range from Jurassic to Cretaceous, with everything from plant remains, gastropods, reptiles and so much more. The one fossil type that Yorkshire is probably most famous for, though, is the ammonites. If you're willing to crack open a few nodules with a good hammer, you'll practically be tripping over these bad boys.

Waves crashing on cliffs
Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sea_on_the_rocks_-_geograph.org.uk_-_386067.jpg

And there we have it. The best places in the UK for fossil findings that you can visit for yourself. Happy hunting!


Until next time.

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