Scratching beneath the surface of Hastings jurassic past

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It has taken millions of years for the continental uplift and erosion to produce the distinctive landscapes we see in and around Hastings.

This erosion reveals not only the geological history of an area but also its ancient environments and animal life.

Fossil specimens, including dinosaur bone and plants, have been known in the Hastings area for many years.

During the 19th century some spectacular fossils were discovered in local stone quarries and clay pits. In 1990 the Nature Conservancy Council designated the cliff from Rock-a-Nore to Pett Level a site of Special Scientific Interest. Some of the local fossils discovered here are the finest of their type in the world; this is probably the best area for potential finds of Lower Cretaceous reptiles outside the Isle of Wight. During the period 145 to 100 million years ago, Britain was part of the continent now known as Laurasia; the climate was sub-tropical with hot, dry summers and humid, wet winters. Meandering rivers, lakes and flood plains covered the landscape, while a rich variety of plants and animals lived on the marshy land and in the water. (Among these were the dinosaurs; local evidence of these can seen in Hastings’ s museums.) Over time huge quantities of sand, silt and mud were deposited over this area by rivers flowing from the “London Uplands” and the south west. The great weight of these sediments, combined with geological faulting, eventually resulted in a gradual subsidence of the whole region and a warm shallow sea began to cover most of England and Northern Europe. Marine life flourished and by about 65 million years ago the remains of countless millions of micro-organisms had formed thick beds of white sediment, which eventually became chalk. Meanwhile, Africa was moving towards Europe; when the two land masses met the intense pressure caused folding of the earth’s crust and Southern England was forced up into a huge dome-shaped structure. Since then erosion has removed the overlying sediment beds in the Central Weald to reveal the sandstones and clays we see today. Last winter’s extreme weather highlighted that the process of erosion continues; the newly exposed cliff face at Rock-a Nore is tempting to fossil hunters. In the second edition of his book, “Geology and Fossils of the Hastings Area”, Ken Brooks writes on the subject of the personal safety of hunters and the conservation of any fossils discovered. Ken stresses the importance of checking tide times, staying clear of the cliff base in case of falls and wearing safety clothing and glasses. There are various points which are cut off by the incoming tide so it is better explore in short sections. He adds that fossil finds should carefully recorded with as much positional data as possible and most left in situ for others to enjoy, until the natural process of erosion eventually destroys them. Further reading: Ken Brooks’ “ Geology and Fossils of the Hastings Area” (fully illustrated) price £8.00 is available from Hastings Waterstones, Hastings Information Centre and other local outlets.