You and your family can uncover the ancient tropical paradise on the Isle of Sheppey for yourselves by locating fossils as old as 52-48 million years. They are relatively easy to find; eyes peeled on the cliffs and London clay can uncover not only marine life, but also tropical seeds, crocodiles and palm trees, pointing to the rich history of the Island. According to Gary Walker, local fossil enthusiast and founder of Sheppey Fossil Forum Facebook page, the Isle of Sheppey is a perfect place to find fossils. He talks about it on the Simply Sheppey podcast.
According to Gary, there is plenty to find on the beaches without having an expert eye or having to dig anything out. You can find fossils anywhere there is natural coastline on the Isle of Sheppey, but the closer you are to where the London Clay is exposed and the cliffs, the greater quantity and better quality fossils you will find. Anywhere from the sea wall at Minster to Warden Bay you are going to be surrounded by possible finds. Here, you can find fossils that ‘look like what they are’ such as shark’s teeth and animals with claws which are easier to spot for amateur and casual hunters. These are unlikely to need digging out and can be popped in your bag to take home as a precious memory of the Island, or as a prize for a growing collection!
Gary’s personal best find is a complete turtle, a very rare find. He was walking along and he spotted something a little orange, that looked like it didn’t belong there. All that was exposed was a tiny corner, and he dug it out. He’s also found a whole trunk of a tree preserved in the clay. That stayed where it was! Others have found fish skulls of over a foot long, but the best thing perhaps is a large bony toothed skull, found by another local fossil enthusiast.
The key to the Island’s treasure trove is the silty clay which preserves the fossils really well, as it covers them up very quickly when they fall to the seabed. And once they are uncovered by erosion and natural tides, you can get them in fantastic condition if you find them before they are eroded by the elements. We are also blessed with a layer of clay which is packed with fossils, so it also makes it ideal for people who would like to take up fossil hunting as more of a passion.
Gary’s interest in fossils started as a kid, with family days out with his Dad showing him, and he hopes that one day his son will be as excited. The ease of finding the fossils and the fact that they look so much like what they are make it ideal for family trips whilst on holiday, or for locals looking for something different, exciting and free to do.
So what do you need to prepare for a day of fossil hunting? Gary’s advice is to make sure you have the boots for the clay, as it can get very muddy! And you will need a sturdy bag for what will surely be your many finds. Make sure you check the tides to make sure you’re not going to get wet! And most importantly, pay attention to your surroundings and don’t get stuck in the mud, as many people have done previously! Ensure someone knows where you are, have a means of calling for help. If you are new to the Island, it might be worth staying in the more populated areas as it is possible to get cut off by the tide, and you will need to know other ways off the beach or where you can stay until the tides go out. Pay attention to the signs for the possible clay slides also; the potential for these increases if there is heavy rain.
And the best bit? Sharing your finds with others, whether on Facebook or just with family and friends. So enjoy yourselves, stay safe and the best of luck!