Folkestone is a large coastal town in Kent, located a short distance
west of the famous white cliffs of Dover, and is home to over 53,000 people.
The town is fringed by rocky and sandy beaches, east and west of the
harbour respectively. Fossils can be collected from the rocky beach and
cliff base throughout the year. Access is good, although families with young children
may find the terrain challenging.
The earliest rocks at Folkestone date from the Albian stage of the
Early Cretaceous epoch, approximately 110 million years ago (mya), and
were deposited within a shallow marine
environment. These sandy rocks,
known as the Lower Greensand, are eroded from the fragile cliffs east or
the town, where they form a rocky beach extending for 1km around the
headland at Copt Point. Overlying the Lower Greensand is the dark-grey
coloured Gault clay, and it's from this later (younger) marine sediment
that Folkestone earns its reputation for fossils.
Left: Parking is
available along The Stade - a narrow road which runs along the top of the
Right: An arched promenade provides access to the cliffs.
Parking is available along The Stade - a narrow road running along the
top of the harbour. Food and refreshments are also available, including
several good pubs and mobile restaurants.
Access to Copt Point (and beyond) is made along the arched promenade
which extends from the harbour to the eroding cliff face (see
The photo also shows the
famous Martello Tower (painted white on the hilltop). The
tower is one of many similar structures built in the early nineteenth
century to defend the country from invasion by the French at that time.
The geology of Folkestone
The cliffs and foreshore east of Folkestone harbour reveal a
fascinating prehistoric past dating from 110-105 mya (Albian stage of
the Early Cretaceous epoch).
During this time a warm sea, rich in flora and fauna, extended across
South and South East England; Great Britain itself was located at a more
southerly latitude (40°N), approximately where the
Mediterranean Sea is today.
The rock succession at Folkestone records the ‘middle’
Cretaceous flooding of southern Britain (marine transgression). During the Early
Cretaceous, Britain was a floodplain environment (above sea
level). During the ‘middle’ Cretaceous, sea levels rose globally.
Southern Britain was flooded from the southeast, receiving
progressively less land-sourced sediment as sea-levels rose and the
land disappeared. The Lower Greensand, which appears in the lower
half of the cliff towards Copt Point and on the foreshore beyond
(see figure 1 below), represents the initial marine stages during the Early Albian,
when the land was still present and erosion of this land supplied the sands.
Sand is naturally derived from areas of high erosion, usually in
relatively close proximity to a beach or within a river. Unlike finer
particles of silt
which may remain suspended within the water column and travel a greater distance, sand settles to the seafloor relatively quickly and is
only transported further by strong tidal currents. The sandy composition
and distribution of the Lower Greensand across the region reveals a moving shoreline (due
to the marine transgression described above).
The Lower Greensand contains few delicate fossils, the most common
fossils are large, thick-shelled molluscs, robust enough to
withstand the strong currents and disturbed waters associated with a
Figure 1: The geology
of the cliffs east of Folkestone harbour, beneath Copt Point and beyond
towards Dover in the East.
Resting conformably above the Lower Greensand at Folkestone is the Gault
clay, a finer sediment transported further from land as sea levels
continued to rise at the beginning of the Middle Albian c.108 mya. Only
fine silts could be carried this far from land.
The abundance of delicate, thin-shelled
benthonic fauna (creatures living of the seafloor) is further evidence
of relatively calm, undisturbed conditions. The Gault is divided into Lower (earlier) and Upper
(later) sub-stages, and represents the greater proportion of the cliff
face, see figure 1 above.
Continued flooding removed the land altogether in the
Late Cretaceous, such that the only material left
accumulating on the sea floor was the skeletons of
marine plankton – resulting in the formation of the Chalk,
exposed in the cliffs east of Copt Point (see figure 1
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Where to look for fossils?
The cliffs and foreshore east of the town are subjected to
intense and sustained erosion from a number of forces, in particular
the sea which breaks apart the fragile sandstone and clay (read
more). This continuous process reveals fossils in situ and among the
foreshore boulders on a daily basis, especially following periods or
Fossils can be found throughout the Lower Greensand and Gault,
although the latter yields a far greater variety and volume of finds,
and is the subject for the remainder of this investigation.
Left: Searching for
fossils at the base of a low gradient section of the cliff-face.
Right: Ammonites and other fossils can be found within the
There are three areas where fossils from the Gault can be found: at the base of
the slumping cliff, loose among the boulders, and at certain times
(following scouring conditions) in situ within the exposed clay on the
foreshore east of Copt Point.
Please note that this location is
designated SSSI status, which requires visitors avoid digging directly into the cliff
and foreshore; fossils can be found exposed in situ as shown
The base of the cliff (shown above-left) is the best place to find Gault
fossils, here the overlying clay has slumped over the underlying Lower
Greensand, burying the latter from sight. Ammonite shells, bivalves and
a range of other marine fossils can be found protruding from the surface, and
are easily collected by hand. The quality of the fossils, especially
the finer details, are best preserved if the specimen is collected
directly from the clay.
Fossils can also be found loose among the boulders on the foreshore. At
high-tide and during stormy conditions in particular, the soft clay is
washed away, leaving the harder, more resistant fossils behind. These
fossils (mainly fragments of ammonites and benthonic fauna) accumulate
among the small spaces between the boulders.
Left: DF event
participants search for fossils among the boulders. Right:
A fragment of
Pictetia astieriana ammonite shell with
suture marks visible.
The photo above-left shows participants on a Discovering Fossils event
searching for fossils among the boulders. Despite being exposed to the
damaging forces of the sea, many of the loose fossils are surprisingly
intact; however many are also broken into smaller fragments. The photo
above-right shows a beautiful fragment of ammonite shell, the suture
are clearly visible on the outer surface.
As with all coastal locations, a fossil hunting trip is best timed to coincide
with a falling or low-tide. For a relatively low one-off cost we
recommend the use of Neptune Tides software, which provides
future tidal information around the UK. To download a free trial
Alternatively a free short range forecast covering the next 7 days
is available on the BBC website
What fossils might you find?
The fossils within the Gault clay at Folkestone reveal a complex
marine ecosystem, rich in life, in particular bivalves and cephalopods
(ammonites and belemnites). The ammonites occur in a variety of
shapes and sizes, including several species with uncoiled shells.
Other common fossils include bivalves, gastropods, shark and fish
teeth/bones, crab carapaces, goose barnacles and bryozoans.
Below are a selection of common finds made over several visits
to Folkestone. The volume of fossils is usually sufficient that most
visitors will find several complete or partial ammonites, belemnites
and bivalves; fish, shark and crab remains are still common, but to
a lesser extent.
Left: A nearly intact
Anahoplites planus ammonite, found within the Gault clay at the cliff base.
Right: A small Euthoplites ammonite, found loose among the
Left: A small
unidentified ammonite from the Gault clay.
Right: A small unidentified pyritised ammonite found within
the Gault clay.
Left: An uncoiled
Hamites ammonite shell fragment, found within the Gault
clay at the cliff-base.
Right: A fragment of an Hamites uncoiled ammonite shell, found loose among the foreshore boulders.
Left: An Hamites
uncoiled ammonite shell, found within the Gault clay.
Right: A Neohibolites belemnite guard found among the foreshore
Notopocorystes broderipii crab carapace found loose among the foreshore
Right: A Dwardius shark tooth.
Left: A complete
Pectinucula pectinata bivalve found in situ within the Gault clay.
Right: A complete Birostrina concentrica bivalve.
Left: A small
unidentified gastropod, found in situ within the Gault clay.
Right: A Gyrodes gentii gastropod from the same location.
Left: A small
unidentified fish jaw
Right: An unidentified fish vertebra.
Protosphyraena ferox fish tooth
found within the Gault.
Right: After a gentle clean the tooth is shown.
Left: A small Cretiscalpellum
Right: A bryozoan.
Left: The internal
surface of an echinoid shell fragment, found within the Lower Greensand.
Right: A large gypsum crystal, found loose on the foreshore.
Tools & equipment
It's a good idea to spend some time considering the tools and
equipment you're likely to require while fossil hunting at
Folkestone. Preparation in advance will help ensure your visit is
productive and safe. Below are some of the items you should consider
carrying with you. You can purchase a selection of geological tools
and equipment online from
Steel point: In some instances
it's not necessary to use a hammer and chisel to remove the matrix
surrounding the fossil. Sometimes all that's required is some
careful precision work using a steel point. This is particularly
relevant with crumbly matrix, where chiselling may otherwise shatter
a fragile fossil.
Hand lens: A hand lens enables the fossil hunter to enjoy the finer
details of the specimens they find. It's often remarkable how well preserved
some of the most intricate structures can be. We recommend
a lens with x10 magnification that folds away into a metal casing to protect
it from damage.
Strong bag: When considering the type of bag to use it's worth setting aside
one that will only be used for fossil hunting, rocks are usually
dusty or muddy and will
make a mess of anything they come in contact with. The bag will also
need to carry a range of accessories which need to
be easily accessible. Among the features recommended include: brightly coloured,
a strong holder construction, back
support, strong straps, plenty of easily accessible pockets and a rain cover.
Walking boots: A good pair of walking boots will
protect you from ankle sprains, provide more grip on
slippery surfaces and keep you dry in wet conditions. During your
fossil hunt you're likely to encounter a variety of terrains so
footwear needs to be designed for a range of conditions.
For more information and examples of tools and equipment
recommended for fossil hunting
or shop online at
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Protecting your finds
It's important to spend some time considering the best way to
protect your finds onsite, in transit, on display and in storage.
Prior to your visit, consider the equipment and accessories you're
likely to need, as these will differ depending on the type of rock,
terrain and prevailing weather conditions.
wrapped in foam, ready for transport. Right:
A small compartment box containing cotton wool is ideal for
separating delicate specimens.
When you discover a fossil, examine the surrounding matrix (rock)
and consider how best to remove the specimen without breaking it;
patience and consideration are key. The aim of extraction is to
remove the specimen with some of the matrix attached, as this will
provide added protection during transit and future handling;
sometimes breaks are unavoidable, but with care you should be able
to extract most specimens intact. In the event of breakage,
carefully gather all the pieces together, as in most cases repairs
can be made at a later time.
For more information about collecting fossils please refer to the
following online guides:
Fossil Hunting and
Conserving Prehistoric Evidence.
Join us on a fossil hunt
Left: A birthday party with
a twist - fossil hunting at
Right: A family hold their prized ammonite at Beachy Head.
Discovering Fossils guided fossil hunts reveal evidence of life that
existed millions of years ago. Whether it's your first time fossil
hunting or you're looking to expand your subject knowledge, our fossil
hunts provide an enjoyable and educational experience for all. To find