UK Fossils -

Fairlight fossil collecting (Sussex)

Fossil collecting at Fairlight

This popular location near Hastings has yielded some important finds over the years. Sharks’ teeth, plants, reptile remains and shells can all be collected, and the site is exceptional for small mammal and fish remains. Crocodile teeth can also sometimes turn up.

Follow the coastal road past Fairlight to Fairlight Cove and then on to Pett Level. You will come to a pub called the Smuggler Inn. It is usually best to park in the car park immediately past the pub, as parking at the large car park is for customers only. There are public toilets just 50 yards away. There is alternative parking in a small car park at the toilet block, just before the pub. From here, you can walk along the promenade, from where you can gain access to the beach and cliffs. It is possible to walk to Fairlight from Hastings, but this is several miles and is not recommended, especially if you wish to return to Hastings on foot.

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.

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Fossils - The most common finds are fish, shark, crocodile and dinosaur remains, plants and molluscs
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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.

Stone Tumblers

If you are interested in fossil collecting, then you may also be interested in a stone tumbler (Lapidary). You can polish stones and rocks from the beach which will look fantastic polished using a stone tumbler. You can polish rough rock and beach glass whilst collecting fossils, on those days where you come back empty handed. These are all high quality machines to give a professional finish to your samples. They can even be used for amber and fossils.


At most locations, you can find microfossils. You only need a small sample of the sand. You then need to wash it in water and sieve using a test sieve. We also sell petri dishes, to help you store your fossils.We have a wide range of microscopes for sale, you will need a Stereomicroscope for viewing microfossils. The best one we sell is the IMXZ, but a basic microscope will be fine. Once you have found microfossils, you will need to store these microfossils.

Test Sieves

Test Sieves are used when searching for microfossils. All you need is a small amount of sample such as clays, sands and shales, or if you have acid, limestone, oolite or chalk. Our UKGE Store sells Endecotts and Impact Test Sieves, these laboratory sieves are highly accurate and extremely durable. These Test sieves are fantastic for microfossils. Test Sieves come in a variety of sizes, frame material and types, they are certificated to EU Standards.