Happisburgh has always been infamous for its rapid rates of erosion, but more recently, deep and regular scouring is yielding a phenomenal amount of mammal remains from the Forest Bed. It is now quite common to find mammoth molars lying around on the beach, as well as a whole range of other mammals, which are washed from the beds both below beach level and at the lower part of the cliff.
♦ Access to Happisburgh beach can easily be located by simply following the signs through the village to the car park at the beach.
♦ Once at the car park, you will find a slipway onto the beach. Be aware that this is constantly being eroded and, during winter months, is often washed away, leaving a steep drop down to the beach.
♦ The glacial beds start immediately, and the Forest Bed is exposed on the foreshore and lower sections of the beach.
♦ Grid Ref: TG 38171 31191, 52.825577, 1.5337743
FIND FREQUENCY: ♦♦♦♦ – Mammal remains are frequently being washed up along this part of the coastline, with fossils being found regularly, although mostly during winter, autumn and spring months. During these times, high tides scour the beach and expose the Forest Bed from the lower sections of the beach.
CHILDREN: ♦♦♦♦ – Providing access by the slipway is still possible, this is a good site for children so long as they keep away from the cliff. Be aware that a large amount of sharp metal objects from past sea defences can be exposed along the beach. However, children can easily pick up mammal remains from the foreshore.
ACCESS: ♦♦♦♦ – Subject to the state of the slipway, access is very good. The car park is just at the top of the cliffs with a very short walk down to the beach. There is also a cafe and playpark at the car park.
TYPE: – Most fossils are found along the foreshore. Mammoth molars, or fragments of molars, are easy to spot and can be found along the foreshore. Search the tideline and amongst the single. This site is best visited after winter storms and during times of scouring.
Happisburgh is famous for its rapid erosion. When you visit, you will notice a series of failed attempts to stop the advance of the sea, including part of a sea wall, granite blocks and two series of damaged wave baffles. This is a location that shows that you just cannot win against the force of the sea. You will also notice that the slipway of the old lifeboat station has completely collapsed.
At the base of the cliff, you will see some blue clays, which contain fossils. They are glacial, so most of the fossils are erratics, such as belemnites, crinoids and so on. These tend to be fragmentary and are very small, but you never know what you might find. What is interesting are the marine molluscs that can be found, dating from the last ice age and which are still extant. You can also find some nice fossil specimens in the blue bed. In addition, you will notice small fragments of chalk, minerals and lots of broken shells.
The most interesting fossils come from the Forest Bed below this. This bed is exposed during the winter months and after scouring tides. Fossils, such as mammoth remains (especially molars or molar sections), rhino, deer, whale, horse and other mammals can all be found. The bones are washed out, especially when the foreshore Forest Bed is exposed. These fossils can be found along the coastline from Happisburgh, north towards Walcott. The site has recently become very popular with collectors, with major finds during the 2018 to 2019 winter being made almost daily.
The cliffs at Happisburgh range in height from 6 to 10 m and are composed of a layer-cake sequence of several glacial tills separated by beds of stratified silt, clay and sand. The basal unit within the stratigraphic succession at Happisburgh is the How Hill Member of the Wroxham Crag Formation. These deposits are typically buried beneath modern beach material but are periodically exposed following They consist of stratified brown sands and clays with occasional quartzose-rich gravel seams that are interpreted as inter-tidal/shallow marine in origin.
Unconformably, overlying these marine deposits are a series of glacial lithologies deposited during several advances of glacier ice into the region during the Middle Pleistocene (c.780 to 430 ka BP)
The Happisburgh Till Member crops-out at the base of the cliffs and its base is frequently obscured by modern beach material: it has a maximum thickness of 3m. The Happisburgh Till Member is a dark grey, highly consolidated till with a matrix composed of a largely massive clayey sand with pebbles of local and far-travelled material.
The upper surface of the till undulates and comprises a series of ridges and troughs upon which the overlying Ostend Clay member outcrops. This unit is between 2.3 and 3.4m thick and consists of thinly-laminated light grey silts and dark grey clays.
In turn, these beds are overlain by 2 to 4m, of weak, stratified sand, the Happisburgh Sand Member, with occasional silty-clay horizons.
Below this, the Forest Bed yields mammal remains.
Common sense when collecting at all locations should be used and knowledge of tide times is essential. There are a number of dangers at Happisburgh. The worn sea defences have left lots of pieces of sharp metal on the beach. The beach is also difficult to access and care must be taken when walking across the metal defences. The sea itself often reaches the cliff and it is very easy to get cut off by the tide. Cliff falls are common at Happisburgh, because the cliffs are sandy and can fall suddenly without warning.
A small trowel, knife and pick are the best tools for this location, so you can extract the finds out of the clay, but mostly all you need is a good eye.
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.