Toby has long been interested in rocks and fossils, so when I came across a geology group for young people – Rockwatch – which we could join as a family I jumped at the chance. I was incredibly impressed with the materials they sent out, including magazines, a binder, information cards and so on, and Toby straight away started asking when he could go to his new club. Rockwatch run a series of events through the year, one of the first of the season fortunately was within a two hour drive, so we booked in and awaited the day with much anticipation. It was well worth the wait. A local expert, his wife, and also the lady who organised the trip, met us in an RSPB reserve car park that morning, along with a group of eager young geologists and their parents. I was glad to see that Toby wasn’t the youngest. He quickly made friends with a child he described as ‘my big boy friend’. The kids in the group were great, paying attention, asking questions, and giving really well thought out answers to our guide’s questions. We spend the morning learning some of the fascinating history of the first two sites we visited, making the most of the time until the tide went out for the main event at Bracklesham Bay, near Chichester.
Having spent a couple of years taking groups of kids fossil hunting in what I regarded as the rich pickings of Osmington Bay, I was expecting us to find perhaps a dozen fossils at most, with
which we would have been very happy, I wasn’t prepared for the huge wealth of material just strewn over the beach. David, our guide, showed us samples of what we were looking for – Turitella gastropods like miniature unicorn horns; great big Venericore bivalves; single celled planktonic foraminifera called Nummulites which were the shape and in some cases the same size as a penny; the grinding dental plates of rays; occasional mammal bones and
crocodile teeth, and last but not least shark teeth. Without this preparation I would have walked straight over the fossils without realizing they were anything other than modern shells.
We spent a fantastic afternoon filling our sandcastle buckets with fossils. I had thought these were an over ambitious receptacle, but was rapidly glad I had brought them. We found samples of all of the common fossils, and though sharks teeth eluded us, others in the group did find them.
Fast forward a couple of days and we had another enjoyable afternoon washing, sorting and storing the fossils. This was quite a time consuming
process as there were so many (when Matt phoned to say he would be late for dinner, I had to break it to him that he wouldn’t be because I was still up to my elbows in fossils, so dinner hadn’t even been started). Ollie enjoyed using probes and tweezers from my dissection kit to gently prize an accumulation of fossils and sand from the inside of the Venericore shells, and when he had enough I was over the moon to have the luck to find a tiny Nummulites had split in two so we could examine it under the microscope. Toby then took over with the tweezers and eagle eyed found some tiny black pieces of fossil – bone perhaps.
It’s great for the boys to meet other kids who share their interests, and although it’s more Toby’s thing than Ollie’s, I think a bucket full of fossils is enough to fire anyone’s enthusiasm for the world beneath our feet.
Notes: We joined Rockwatch as regular members and have no affiliation to it other than that, or to the other organisation linked above which I’ve added purely for the purpose information on Bracklesham Bay. All photos and opinions are my own. Bracklesham Bay is about the safest site we’ve ever been fossil hunting at, as there is no cliff, but it is obviously on the shore so usual precautions need to be observed as when visiting any seaside location with regard water as a hazard to young kids, taking correct sun protection etc. We owe many thanks to David, Anne and Susan for this fantastic event.