I couldn’t make SVPCA in Lyme Regis this year as I was already committed to a family holiday at the same time. It never fails to amaze me how often conferences and holidays clash but that’s life and I was determined to enjoy myself anyway. As it turned out I too was in the south west, in Somerset, and while I was there I decided to check out some of the well known fossil localities in the area.
The most famous amongst these is probably Watchet and this will be a very familiar locality to marine reptile fossil hunters in the UK. This section of the coast is also of great interest to geologists and there are excellent examples of faulting and unconformities. The cliffs in some parts of this coastline are also under constant attack from the sea and erode readily but at different rates. For example, the Lias cliffs erode quite rapidly and this is naturally of concern to those living here and some preventative measures have been taken to protect, for example, the railway line that runs parallel to the shore.
The red Keuper marl beds of the Triassic can be observed here and these are faulted against the green marls. But it is the mudstone rocks of the Lower Lias (Hettangian) that is of most interest and these contain ammonites and numerous crinoid fragments. As always though, it is the various remains of ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs that have the most appeal and, just like the other coastal exposures, they have been heavily plundered and the venue continues to be scoured by collectors.
Under normal conditions, there is very little to be found these days until there is a storm and/or new cliff falls and then collecting can be productive. The strata dips seaward and where the sea platforms slope up and face the inland side, they are very efficient at collecting nodules, cobbles and shingle and when these are scoured in the spring or autumn tides, they can also reveal reptile bones.
Watchet is a lovely place to visit and the town itself is quiet and the small esplanade is attractive. Take time to have a look at the Geological Wall on the station platform and pay a visit to the tiny museum as well. The museum has a small collection of local fossils and indeed has a small, virtually complete ichthyosaur although it appears, to me, to be a poor example. Never the less it is still a nice little museum and the local history of Watchet is equally fascinating.
As you head eastwards from Watchet, and not too far away, is Kilve and this is another classic locality. The rocks here are very similar to Watchet and are of similar age with both the cliffs and foreshore demonstrating excellent exposures of the Lower Jurassic Blue Lias and these include sequences of black shales, marls and limestone.
Ammonites are relatively common in the shales, represented by Psiloceras planorbis, and there are also trace fossils to be seen but these are almost impossible to extract and are best left alone. But ammonites can be recovered and these are best preserved when they are found in nodules but the trick these days is to find one!
The strata at Kilve also dips seaward and there are a multitude of sloping ramparts on the shore that gathers up debris and nodules just like Watchet. It was said of Kilve that ichthyosaur vertebrae were extremely common, so common in fact that you could almost guarantee finding a couple but this is sadly not the case today. Bones of both ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs can be found, sometimes matrix free, but usually in nodules, just like the ammonites. Again, fresh cliff falls, storms and scouring tides are needed to expose any new material.
While I was at Kilve, there were many people turning up with hammers and kit and they were all fossil hunting. As some left, others arrived and the same areas were continually being scoured. Again this highlights the pressure that the coastal venues are under and it is no surprise that so little is found these days and I think it is rather sad that these classic localities are having their cupboards continually stripped bare.
Having said that, Kilve is a beautiful place to visit and the geology is equally fascinating and, if you are in the area, make sure you take the time to have a look. There is parking available (pay and display), toilet facilities and a nice area for a picnic. Recommended.
|The end of a storm over Watchet|