Folkestone is internationally famous for the ‘Channel Tunnel’, but also for the cliffs of Gault Clay at Copt Point and in the Warren and East Wear Bay. These rapidly eroding cliffs yield a vast range of ammonites, crabs, echinoids, belemnites, brachiopods, bivalves and much, much more.
♦ There are two ways to access the fossiliferous sites at Folkestone. Both are quite difficult, because of the large number of big and slippery (greensand) boulders on the foreshore. The first and preferable route is to drive up to Folkestone Warren, (near to what used to be a golf club) and park in a side road. Walk across the grass to the east of a prominent pele tower and you will find some rough steps leading down to the beach. From here, walk west towards the Gault cliffs. This route is suitable for children.
♦ The second route involves driving along the Folkestone seafront road, which is northeast of the harbour. Here, there is plenty of parking and steps will take you down to the promenade. Access has been blocked for health and safety reasons, because of the large number of rocks on the foreshore, but access is not restricted. Simply climb over (or under) the bars of the fence and down to the foreshore.
♦ Ref: 51.08590°N, 1.20292°E
FIND FREQUENCY: ♦♦♦♦♦ – The Gault Clay at Folkestone is highly fossiliferous, but most fossils are very fragile, so ensure you wrap them well and treat as soon as you get home or onsite. The best time to collect is after scouring conditions and storms, when fossils can be found lying on the foreshore.
CHILDREN: ♦♦♦ – Unfortunately, hard greensand blocks from beds below the Gault make the main section too dangerous for younger children, as the rocks can be very slippery. However, they can collect from the small cliff at the Warren/East Wear Bay end of the exposure, where fossils can be found in the shingle on the foreshore.
ACCESS: ♦♦♦ – You can park at the cliff top and then walk down to the beach, but it is a fair distance whichever end you choose to start from. Both will require walking over large and slippery boulders, if visiting the main cliff sections. For those who cannot make it over the large boulders, visit the Warren/East Wear Bay end of the exposure, where you can find fossils in the shingle and foreshore exposures.
TYPE: – Most of the fossils can be found on the foreshore, especially after storms and scouring conditions, but fossils are also commonly found in the cliffs. If you know the zones and are after particular fossils from certain horizons, then you may wish to consider taking a trowel or pick to collect directly from the cliff. For those just interested in finding any type of fossil, the foreshore is the best place to look.
The Gault Clay contains a wide range of ammonite species. Some are found in nodules and these are also the best preserved. The echinoid bed is higher up the cliffs and, unfortunately, the fossils from here (along with many of the ammonites from other beds) are very fragile. The Gault Clay is also rich in a wide variety of brachiopods, bivalves and gastropods. Belemnites (Neohibolites minimus) are also commonly found. And if you are very lucky, you can find echinoids, crabs, nautili, crinoids and reptile bones (including pterosaur bone fragments).
The best place to find fossils is along the foreshore at Copt Point. However, this normally requires scouring conditions, usually during winter months. Many of the harder fossils, especially those within nodules, can be collected from the beach. Look in the shingle, in particular where the cliff is at its lowest (towards the eastern end of the exposure) and between the large greensand boulders along the foreshore.
Many fossils can be collected from the scree slopes at the base of the cliff, particularly after persistent heavy rain and extreme high tides. However, during these conditions, it is dangerous to climb the cliffs, but, during dryer times, it is possible to climb the scree scopes to collect from the higher beds. On the other hand, we do not recommend doing this for safety reasons. Families can collect fossils from the low cliff at the Warren/East Wear Bay end, which is much safer. Ammonites and shells are common here amongst the shingle.
The Lower Greensand, which is found at the base of the cliff and makes up the large boulders scattered along the foreshore, also yield fossils. These are very hard and will usually require a large hammer and a chisel to extract.
If all this isn’t enough for you, the chalk at the other side of the Warren/East Wear Bay is also full of bivalves, brachiopods and echinoids. It is worth a visit, but is not as productive as other chalk locations.
The rocks at Folkestone are from the Albion stage of the Lower Cretaceous (about 106myrs old). During this time, the southeast of England was covered by a large, shallow inland sea, sometimes referred to as the ‘Gault Sea’. The sediments laid down in this sea – the Gault Clay – consists of dark bluish grey to pale grey soft and silty mudstones, which weather to yellow and brown clays (but can be gritty or sandy in other areas). The clays are generally either glauconitic or calcareous and are divided into 13 beds (labelled I to XIII). Phosphatic nodule beds occur at several horizons, notably in the middle of the formation. The Gault contains a rich marine fauna in which molluscs are the most common fossils.
As always, common sense when collecting should be used and you should check tide times before going, as the sea always reaches the base of the headland at high tide. Care must be taken when climbing over the rocks, as these are very slippery and dangerous. Cliff falls are common, so ensure that there is no overhang above you if looking at the base of the cliff and in the scree slopes. During winter months, the clay can sometimes be very sticky and the scree slopes themselves can be dangerous, as it is easy to get stuck in the soft clay.
After scouring tides, fossils can simply be picked up from the foreshore. However, you may need a pick to dig into the scree slopes. To collect fossils from the greensand, you will need a large hammer and chisel.
This site is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). This means you can visit the site, but hammering the bedrock is not permitted. For full information about the reasons for the status of the site and restrictions, download the PDF from Natural England.