Along the Wrabness shoreline of the River Stour and after scouring tides or stormy seas, fossils are washed up from sediments from the Quaternary. These include bones of deer, horse and whale from the Red Crag, with turtles, shells, and shark and fish teeth within cement stones and pyrite concretions from the London Clay.
♦ Wrabness can be found by taking the A120 to Harwich. When you are near Harwich, at the first roundabout, take a left turn towards Ramsey. Follow this road all the way past the woods and nature reserve (on your right), until you reach a crossroads. Take the right turning here to Wrabness. Continue pass the railway station and then take a right turn into Church Road.
♦ The easiest way to access the site is to walk down Stone Lane to the shore and then walk to the west. However, a quicker route can be found by continuing past the first footpath and taking the next public footpath you come to. However, this route has a much steeper descent to the beach, with warning signs that the official footpath has now been eroded away.
♦ Parking is often available along Church Road, but, during busy periods, you may need to continue to the main car park further down this road.
♦ Ref: 51.94675°N, 1.15870°E
FIND FREQUENCY: ♦♦♦ – Until recently, the only finds at Wrabness were fossils from the Pleistocene and Red Crag, which could occasionally be found after storms. The London Clay, which is exposed at the base of the cliff and below beach level, was both overgrown, covered in sand and rarely on view. However, recent scouring in the last five years is now regularly exposing the London Clay in small pockets along the foreshore.
CHILDREN: ♦♦♦ – This location is suitable for children, but they should not venture out too far, as the mud on the foreshore can be dangerous at low tide and it is easy to get stuck.
ACCESS: ♦♦♦ – The site is easy to find with good access. It is not far from either parking areas, but if you are coming from the western end of Church Road, the footpath can be quite steep.
TYPE: – Fossils are found mostly on the foreshore. However, when the cement band is exposed, fossils can be found in these blocks, within the small cliff.
Shells, including Artica and Mytilus, can be found from the Red Crag, along with pieces of whale bone, deer and horse remains, and sharks’ teeth of Isurus hastalis and Carcharocles megalodon. These tend to be washed up after storms and are found along the banks of the river.
From the London Clay, most fossils are found in woody pockets or pyrite concentrations. These contain plant material and sharks’ teeth belonging to the species Odontaspis rutoti, Striatolamia macrota and Carcharias teretidens, which can be collected by searching the shingle on the foreshore (best done by crawling on your hands and knees). Plant species found here include Lodes multireticulata, Jenkinsella apocynoides and Platycarya richardsoni. Occasionally, turtle bones and beetle remains turn up.
The cliffs at Wrabness provide the best onshore exposure of the Harwich Formation and London Clay Formation, both of 50 Mya. They are the highest vertical cliffs in Essex (over 16 metres) and consist of the upper part of the Eocene Harwich Formation and the lower few metres of the Walton Member of the London Clay.
The Wrabness cliffs contain a complete sequence of bands of volcanic ash, which probably originated from volcanoes in Scotland. These ash bands are present from the Harwich Stone Band to the top of the formation. Over 30 separate ash layers occur, which was deposited in a subtropical sea about 50 million years ago.
The Eocene sediments contain an important fossil flora. Although the fossil fruit and seed flora from Wrabness is limited by comparison with some other sites, some of the fruit and seeds are preserved in concretions as opposed to the carbonaceous preservation or preservation in iron pyrite.
Fossils from the Red Crag (Pliocene ~3 Mya) can be found washed ashore, although the Red Crag itself is not seen at this location.
The stratigraphy at Wrabness is pending an update from the British Geological Society.
The main danger here is the extensive mud platform, which becomes more dangerous the further away from the shore, especially along the water’s edge at low tide. Common sense should also be used when collecting at all locations. Tide times should be noted, with collecting being carried out on a retreating tide, if possible – although getting cutting off is highly unlikely unless you are stuck in the mud.
Normally, you do not need any particular tools to collect here, just a good eye. However, you may want to take a small hammer and safety goggles for splitting any cement stones, which can contain fossils.
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.