Whitecliff Bay is a geologist’s heaven. Where else can you collect from the Upper Chalk, London Clay, Reading Clay, Bagshot Beds, Bracklesham Beds, Barton Clay, Fishbourne member, Cliff End Member and Totland Bay Member, plus much more?
♦ Access to Whitecliff Bay can be made through Whitecliff Bay Holiday Park. There is a short (but steep) footpath down to the beach.
♦ Ref: 50.67234°N, 1.09496°W
FIND FREQUENCY: ♦♦♦♦♦ – Although lots of fossils can be found, you will often need the right conditions. They can mostly be found during scouring conditions on the foreshore, but fossils can also be found from the Upper Chalk in the landslips.
CHILDREN: ♦♦♦♦ – Whitecliff is ideal for families and suitable for children. The parking nearby has toilets and a cafe, and there is a nice clear, sandy beach, which makes for an ideal day out.
ACCESS: ♦♦♦♦ – Access to Whitecliff is excellent, with parking near to the location.
TYPE: – Most of the fossils are found on the foreshore. You just pick them up, but they can also be found in the cliff.
Starting from the west end of the bay, the Upper Chalk of Culver Cliff yields excellent sponges, such as Porosphaera. Echinoids, such as the small Echinocorys subconicula and belemnites (Belemnitella mucronata) can be seen from the Portsdown Member. This is at the top of the succession, so it is best to search the rocks that have fallen from this thin bed of marl. Occasional fish remains can also be found.
Past the chalk, the Reading Formation can be seen, although much of it has been slipped and is covered by vegetation. This bed is mostly unfossiliferous, although a few silicified echinoids and a few derived microfossils from the chalk have been found. The London Clay and London Clay Basement Bed, immediately after the Reading Formation, are where most of the more interesting fossils can be found. Sharks’ teeth, worm tubes (Ditrupa) and a range of shells can be found. The London Clay Formation includes the Bagshot Sands which are unfossiliferous. Most of the fossils can be found from the first part of the sequence. Many various molluscs can be found from the Bracklesham Group, which include Turritella (a gastropod) and Venericor planicosta (a bivalve). These are from the Earnley Sand. It is also possible to find the large foraminifera, Nummulites laevigatus.
The Barton Group is mostly covered up by a sea defence, although, during scouring conditions this is exposed on the foreshore. Here, the shells of the large foraminifera, Nummulites prestwichianus and Nummulites rectus, can be found. The Becton Sand follows this (again mostly covered up by defences). The Headon Hill Formation, which has been badly landslipped, can yield a wide range of marine shells, including gastropods (Viviparus, Galba, Planorbina, Melanopsis, Theodoxus) and bivalves (Potamomya, Ostrea, Psammotaea and Corbula), as well as many other species. And, at the eastern end of the bay, the Bembridge Limestone yields superb specimens of Planorbina and Galba.
Most of the fossils from the London Clay can be found on the foreshore, mostly during scouring conditions when the clay is exposed. The London Clay Building Stone layer can be also seen above, with occasional fossils. During scouring conditions, superb shells from the Bracklesham and Barton Groups can also be seen exposed on the foreshore. You should also search the boulders along the foreshore at the chalk end and in the landslips. Often, if you split these boulders, fossils can also be found inside. The Bracklesham and Barton Beds exposed in the cliff face contain shell beds, from which you can collect, although the shells are very fragile and require great care. At the east end of the bay, the Bembridge Marls and Bembridge Limestone are exposed, and fossils can also be found in these, where there are layers of shells.
The northward dipping Chalk at Culver Cliff is replaced by a good Tertiary exposure at Whitecliff Bay. These Palaeogene cliffs of soft sands and clays provide one of the most important sections of Europe. Locally, they form a key, reference section for the younger strata of the Hampshire Basin. Most of the beds are vertical or steeply dipping and thus a large stratigraphical sequence is seen in a short geographical distance. In little more than a kilometre of coastline, about 500m of late Palaeocene to late Eocene clays and sands are well-exposed.
- The Reading Formation is first seen, as reddish, mottled silty clays and marls, which is much slumped in the cliff in the southern corner of the bay and which which lies unconformably on an eroded surface of Campanian Chalk. The Reading Formation belongs to the Sparnacian Stage of the Palaeocene.
- This is followed by greyish-brown London Clay Formation. The marine London Clay, with whitish aragonitic shells of marine molluscs in places contains some grey septarian nodules aligned vertically in the cliff. he London Clay here is quite fossiliferous, although specimens are very friable and usually broken by the drying and cracking of the clay.
- The Bagshot Formation which follow are comprised of the the yellowish sands of the Portsmouth Sand Member and the Whitecliff Sand Member. hese sands are clearly seen in the photograph and are quite distinctive. About 11m (37 feet) above the base of the sands is a distinctive brownish-red sandstone which is iron-cemented. This relatively hard bed forms a narrow reef running down the shore at low tide. Modern work has placed the sands within, rather than above, the London Clay Formation
- The marine Bracklesham Group is exposed beneath the caravan park to the left of the path down. the succession is very interesting and fossiliferous, but it is a little complicated. It mostly consists of Bracklesham strata until after the southernmost of the two seafront cafes. The Bracklesham Group is much subdivided, not only into formations, but also into named and numbered beds. The Bracklesham Group here is represented by the Wittering, Earnley, Marsh Farm and Selsey Formations.
- The Barton Group is represented by the Barton Clay Formation and the Becton Sand Formation, the former of which is not properly exposed currently. The outcrop is in the area of the two beach cafes which lie in front of slumped and overgrown cliffs. The Barton Clay crops out near the main path down, with Barton Sand (Becton Sand) to the right.
- The lacustrine and lagoonal Solent Group, includes the Headon Hill Formation. This formation is comprised of the original Headon Beds, named after Headon Hill near Alum Bay, and the original Osborne Beds, named after Osborne near Cowes. There is a wide range of molluscan fossils, most of which are white, aragonitic and rather fragile. They are of freshwater, brackish water and, in places, of marine or near-marine origin.
- The Bouldnor Group follows, represented by the Bembridge Marls Member and the Bembridge Limestone Formation
Common sense when collecting at all locations should be used and knowledge of tide times is essential. The coastline is dangerous during high spring tides and the cliffs are constantly falling.
Most of the fossils can be picked up off the foreshore, without the need of any tools. However, it is best to take a few, which may come in useful. In particular, a hammer, safety glasses and chisels may be required for the Upper Chalk at Culver Cliff.
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.