Happisburgh is famous for its rapid rates of erosion and a graveyard of previous attempts to stop erosion with old broken sea walls. It is actually the glacial beds that yield fossils, which consist mainly of molluscs, but also other erratics can be found. Happisburgh does have Forest Bed, but this is rarely exposed.
♦ Access to Happisburgh beach can easily be located by simply following the signs through the village to the beach car park.
♦ Once at the car park, walk north towards the lifeboat station. Here, the slipway has fallen into the sea, but you will see some metal steps down to the beach.
♦ The glacial beds start straight away and the Forest Bed will be exposed on the foreshore, but this is rare. The glacial beds of interest are the blue-grey and brown beds, where erratic fossils and molluscs dating from the last ice age can be found.
♦ Grid Ref: TG 38171 31191, 52.825577, 1.5337743
FIND FREQUENCY: ♦♦ – Erratic fossils are not common and the molluscs are mostly broken. You should find a few complete molluscs, but generally the find rate is low. The Forest Bed, which is rarely exposed, is much more productive with occasional bones found.
CHILDREN: ♦♦ – Due to the large amount of sharp metal objects from past sea defences, the area around the houses and lifeboat slip road is not recommended for children. However, children can visit the cliffs near the new steps down to the beach. They can also visit the beach south of the houses, which has golden sands. There are still some glacial beds here, which are interesting to look at without the dangers.
ACCESS: ♦♦♦ – Access is by the steps from the cliff top. These take you directly onto the beach, where you can start looking for fossils straight away. However, access can change frequently, due to the extensive erosion rates at this location. The old access route was down the lifeboat slipway, which has now fallen into the sea.
TYPE: – Most fossils are found in the cliff face. You will see plenty of broken shells and occasionally complete ones. Samples can be taken from this bed, which contain micro-minerals and small erratics, such as crinoids and chalk fragments. If the beach has scoured, the Forest Bed will be on view and this will give better chances of collecting fossils.
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 stop nature. 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 alive today. 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 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.
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 sharp metal lying across the beach. The beach is also difficult to access and care must be taken when walking across these 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 pick the finds out of the clay.
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.