Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SciFri: Fossil Hunting at Beltinge/Reculver in North Kent

Following on from my popular post on fossil hunting at Walton-on-the-Naze, I’ve recently been fossil hunting on the North Kent coast, not far from Herne Bay. I’ve wanted to go for a couple of years now, ever since I stared my PhD back in 2018. It’s been hard trying to find people to go with and with the current pandemic it has been even harder. When I visited in June with my mum we hadn’t checked the tide times and paid the price. However this time everything had come up Stevo and a successful afternoon of fossil hunting was had by me and my close friend Vanessa. It’s always better to have an extra set of eyes when fossil hunting, so be sure to find a buddy to take with you too!

Despite the cold weather, the rain thankfully held off at whilst we were on the beach. We decided to park in the Reculver Country Park car park, not far from the Reculver Towers. From here the beach that we wanted to access to search for fossils was easy to access and only a short walk away. We did have to kill some time though whilst we waited for the time to go out a little more. Due to our enthusiasm, we arrived slightly early for the party and admired the sights whilst we waited for the fossil beds to be revealed. As someone that misses the coast, this was very much worth it.

The cliffs and fossil beds looking towards Beltinge from Reculver

Before we could get to Beltinge (which was our main target area), we had to travel through Reculver which is well known for it’s bivalve fossils. The Thanet Beds are just full of them (photographed below) although they are very fragile and often break up when you attempt to extract them. If you intend to collect some bivalves, it is best to target the beds along the beach that are contained within a sandy matrix. Once home, apply a PVA solution or another alternative in an attempt to harden the shell. Ensure that the shell is strong enough before you remove the matrix otherwise all your hard work could be for nothing! It’s hard to not stop and wonder what the ancient ocean would have looked like in the Palaeocene when these beds were laid down.

Some of the highly fossiliferous fossil beds at Reculver

As you walk along the shore, you are likely to come across the areas of clay photographed below. These are just before you reach the groynes as you approach Beltinge and where I would recommend looking for fossil shark teeth. In order for you to access these areas, you need a good low tide so planning in advance is essential for success. The teeth (and other remains) are generally found among the loose gravel that has gathered in and around these areas of clay. All of our finds indeed were among the loose gravel despite our best efforts at digging and sifted through the more compacted material.

The highly productive clay beds where most of the fossil shark teeth are found

As you’ve probably guessed it, collecting is normally carried out by kneeling or bending down. So be sure to wear suitable clothing and try not to cause yourself any long-lasting harm. The lower you get to the shingle, the higher the chances of finding teeth and other fossils become. There is also the added bonus of finding more once you’ve got your eye in which is exactly what happened to us (it also helped to be in the right place, finally). I’d recommend that you take a pair of tweezers and a small box to place any of your finds in, to keep them safe. Some of the fossils can be delicate so it is essential to accommodate this unless you want to be left with a pile of dust.

One of the fossil teeth in situ. Can you spot it?

The teeth from 24 species of shark, ray and other fish have been found at Beltinge as well as the remains of reptiles (yay!). The most common and abundant species of shark from which teeth can be found is Stratiolamia macrota. This is an extinct sand shark and indeed all our finds that day were from this species. These can be identified by striations in the blade of the tooth (see photo below). Additionally, the beach is covered in the fossilised remains of burrows of marine creatures which has also fossilised. These ichnofossils are extremely interesting to look at but I’m still not sure what made them. There is also the possibility that some of them may be from root systems as fossil wood is also a common find. It’s been ‘petrified’ following replacement with iron pyrite and so is quite dense and rings with a metallic sound. Some of the wood is extremely fragile and will break apart as you pick it up so try to aim for the smaller parts if you can.

The eight teeth we found belonging to Stratiolamia macrota

We’ll certainly head back to Reculver and Beltinge in the future to do some more fossil hunting at this Eocene fossil gold mine. After all, we only managed to find one species of shark – there are plenty more to tick off of the list! When we do return, we’ll probably time it after a big storm so that the action of the waves would have freed up as much new fossil material as possible. If you’ve got any questions, please leave them below and hopefully you find this quick overview useful. If you’d like to know more I’d recommend this more in-depth guide by the UK Fossils Network. Finally, if you go out looking for fossils after reading this, best of luck. Please let me know how you get on!

A piece of fossilised wood in situ – identified due to its rusty colour

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