Geology: The rocks here are from the Valanginian age of the Lower Cretaceous. The first cliffs you will come to consist of the Cliff End Sandstone, which is made up of a series of sands and silts. This is part of the Wadhurst Clay Formation. Above the sandstone is the ‘Cliff End Bond Bed’, which contains fish scales, teeth and bones, and shark and reptile remains. As you head west, you will come to a major fault at Fairlight Cove (‘Haddock’s Reverse Fault’) between the harder Wadhurst Clay at the eastern end and the softer Ashdown Formation to the west. This fault explains why the sea has rapidly eroded the cliff here and the need for coastal defence works. The Ashdown Formation is made up of sands and silts (including the Fairlight Clay, which can be dark grey, pinky or pure white in places) that can be seen exposed on the foreshore, in and to the west of Fairlight Cove. At the top of the cliffs at Pett Level, there is a small amount of glacial sediment from a drift deposit. overlain by shales and sandstones from the Wadhurst Clay. These are from the Wealden Group from the Valanginian Age of the Lower Cretaceous. The Ashdown formation is split into two parts, with the majority of the cliff at Rock-A-Nore made up of the Ashdown Sandstone, but, as you walk towards Ecclesbourne Glen (where there is a large waterfall), the Fairlight Clay is exposed in the lower part of the cliff and foreshore.
Fossil collecting: When beginning at the beach at Pett Level, blocks of the Cliff End Bone Bed can usually be found lying on the ground and is packed with bones, scales and teeth. If you break open these blocks, you can see teeth from the fish Scheenstia and the shark Hybodus. A variety of shells can be seen and, very occasionally, insects have been found from this layer. The grey clay is the ‘Unio Bed’, which contains the shells of the eponymous freshwater bivalve. These can be collected along the foreshore, where this layer is exposed. In this, if you are lucky, you can also find a whole range of different bones and teeth from dinosaurs, crocodiles and turtles. However, note that fossils from this clay are very fragile. The Fairlight area is the best location outside of the Isle of Wight for dinosaur remains. While not common, they can generally be found anywhere along the Fairlight to Hastings coastline, but are mostly fragments. Along the foreshore, past Fairlight Cove to the east, you can find dinosaur bones in the ‘Wadhurst Clay Ironstone’. Turtle remains have also been recorded. These bones are normally found in ironstone nodules, but are usually only fragments. Bones can also be found at the base of the cliffs, in the scree slopes. At Pett Level just before Fairlight Cove, a submerged forest can be seen at low tide dating from about 5200 BC. During scouring, in a silt layer exposed on the foreshore, Iguanodon footprints have also been seen.
Equipment: Many fossils can be found either in blocks of the Cliff End Bone Bed or on the foreshore. The bone bed is very hard and you will need good splitting tools and hammer. It is also worthwhile taking some samples home to split in more comfortable surroundings.
Safety: As always, common sense when collecting at all locations should be used and you should check tide times before going, as the sea can reach the base of the cliffs at high tide. In addition, there is a constant danger of falling rocks from the cliffs. Stay away from the foot of the cliffs and, if you are breaking up rocks, do so well away from the cliff face, as hammer vibrations can cause debris to fall. Hard hats should be worn at all times if near to the base of the cliffs.
Further information: View public discussions and other people's finds, or add your own reports and photos by going to our Discussion Board. For other similar locations, try nearby Bexhill, and Cooden. You can also collect from Hastings, a similar age and just up the coast. Looking for more good fossil hunting trips? Why not try the following locations which are all very good for finding fossils... Whitby, Bracklesham, Kettleness, Eastbourne, Hope, Staithes. Quantoxhead, Fishguard, Abereiddy, Whitehaven, Aust, Hunstanton, Read the excellent publications: Early Cretaceous Environments of the Weald.