Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Tough Going at the Bluff

A moody Bluff

Spring 2010 loomed large and about time too I thought. The winter had been horrendous, our second hard winter on the trot. Sub-zero temperatures for weeks on end, snow, ice and rain had made the dark months miserable and it was hard to see any positives about the period. Indeed, large gas and electricity bills made it very painful indeed.

However, winter slowly passed but was still hanging on and just wouldn’t quite give up. But it was a new field trip season and first up, as usual, was the Bluff. I hadn’t been to the Bluff for a year since the last field trip clashed with SVP at Bristol and there was no way I was missing that! I’d kept up to date with the news from the quarry and knew that very little had been recovered. That wasn’t a surprise since the brick works was still mothballed and this was the third year of no new scrapings.

However, I did believe that the harsh winter would be of some benefit and that the continual erosion over winter would help in uncovering some new material or, at the very least provide a few tentative clues. I was to be sorely disappointed.

I arrived early as normal although I wasn’t the first there. One of those there was a woman that had visited the quarry many times before and was also at Bristol. I also recognised a couple of the others and, after signing in, I quickly made my way to the Bluff hoping to gain an advantage from the stolen minutes gained ahead of everyone else but this time I had only been in for a matter of minutes before a few of the others turned up.

As usual, I started on the reptile beds on the south east side of the quarry – the fabled Baryonyx beds. And, to be fair, it started off reasonably well and found a piece of bone exactly where I expected to find some. But again, the mother lode remained elusive and I spent a long time trying to find any other piece of bone that would identify the bone bearing bed. But nothing else materialised.

I move on to another bed in the same formation that had provided several teeth and some crocodile scutes in the past but all that was found was a lepdotid scale, albeit an extremely nice example. After scouring this bed I decided to prospect the northern beds but to get there I had to circumnavigate the very large lake that had now formed in the bottom of the quarry.


In all my years of visiting this quarry, I had never seen the lake so big but this was yet another result of the quarry not being worked. When the site is active, there are always pumps in place to keep the water down but because the site is closed this has not been done. In time they will have to do it and before next winter I imagined otherwise, if the quarry was to be reopened, they would have to wait weeks before any clay could be extracted.

I made my way around the perimeter of the quarry and arrived at the northern beds, and it was here that I realised how much the clay had become compacted during the Winter. On first inspection, the clay and the shales looked much as they had done at any other time but I came to realise that the vast majority of the quarry had a crust of compressed clay covering the strata below. It was obvious that weeks and weeks of ice and snow had compacted the surface to an immense degree. After the ice and snow had melted, even further deluges of rain didn’t break it up and the water simply ran off. No wonder there was no new material of any substance to be found.

Wealden badlands

Never the less, undaunted, I continued to prospect for whatever could be found but to no avail. It was apparent that nobody else had found much either – one croc tooth and a minute fish jaw albeit with some teeth in place – but that was it. I made my way to the fish beds hoping to recover more scales and fish bones and but even here there was nothing and this was always the banker layer, the place where, if all else failed, you could find something. It was now that I began to appreciate how necessary it was for a new scraping of the clay but when this will be, nobody knows.

I made my way back to the south east side of the quarry and continued the search but only a few badly preserved scales were found. Even the continually worked theropod track way, uncovered over the last couple of years, failed to produce a single new track. The Bluff was proving to be an even harder prospect than ever.

It is fairly certain now that very little will be found at this quarry now until the brickworks reopens. I’ve no doubt that in time it will but this is, of course, highly dependant on the current economic climate in the country improving and, at time of writing, this still seems some way off.

On the positive side, there is still 100 years of clay in the Bluff and the site is fortunate in as much that there was a multi-million pound investment of new machinery shortly before the world-wide recession hit. This (fortunately?) led to the plant being mothballed as opposed to being closed, like so many different sites across the country, although the local job losses were very unfortunate.

Despite these obstacles, I will continue to return and keep prospecting since the Bluff almost certainly has other significant new discoveries to come and I, for one, cannot wait to see what turns up.

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