Hastings to Pett Beach SSSI

Sussex RIGS number: Designated as Hastings to Pett Beach SSSI for its geological and biodiversity value (Site Code 1000193)
Includes Sussex RIGS: Foul Ness TQ81/14, Fairlight Cove TQ81/18 & Cliff End TQ81/13
Hastings – Pett Level Geological Conservation Review (GCR) Site
Includes Fairlight Geological Conservation Review (GCR) Site
   Block: Wealden (Site Code 2638)
Includes Hastings Geological Conservation Review (GCR) Site
   Block: Jurassic-Cretaceous Reptilia (Site Code 918)
   Block: Mesozoic-Tertiary Fish/Amphibia (Potential Site)
Includes Covehurst Geological Conservation Review (GCR) Site
   Block: Mesozoic Palaeobotany (Site Code 921)
Includes Cliff End Geological Conservation Review (GCR) Site
   Block: Mesozoic Palaeobotany (Site Code 2352)
   Block: Mesozoic Mammalia (Site Code 541)

Grid Reference: TQ828095 to TQ905150

Site access:
The western part of the site is accessible along the foreshore from the eastern end of the waterfront at Hastings where there is a car park. Access to the eastern part of the site is along the foreshore from Pett Beach where there is a small car park and parking by the road. The foreshore along the central part of the site is also accessible from the footpath down Fairlight Glen but care must be taken through the lower section which is affected by landslipping.
The foreshore is only accessible at low tide and the wavecut platform has variable sand and shingle cover. Cliffs are visible from the foreshore but the access is difficult due to the height and potential for rockfalls. Extreme care should be taken if approaching cliffs. However there is plenty of fallen debris on the beach for examination.

Summary Description:

16/04/2011 & 24/08/2011
(from East Sussex RIGS Survey 2011)

Interest Feature(s)

Bedrock:
7 km of cliffs and foreshore exposing Ashdown Formation sandstones and mudstones and the overlying lower Wadhurst Clay Formation (including the Cliff End Sandstone). Cliffs are up to 100m high and largely undefended apart from the western end at Hastings and locally in Fairlight Cove. The exposures cut across the Fairlight Anticline and four fault zones are exposed.
Stratigraphy: Ashdown and Wadhurst Clay Formations, Hastings Beds Subgroup, Wealden Group, Lower Cretaceous (Berriasian to Valanginian) in age. As a classic type-section of the Wealden this site is of national and international importance for reference, and has great potential for research.
Sedimentology: the lower Ashdown Formation comprises silty mudstones with thin sandstones, including the conspicuous Lee Ness Sandstone, and was probably deposited in a meander plain environment. The upper Ashdown Formation comprises sandstones with siltstone interbeds and was probably deposited in fluctuating meander plain and braid plain environments. The Wadhurst Clay Formation comprises mudstones, siltstones and sandstones including the conspicuous Cliff End Sandstone, and was probably deposited in muddy alluvial to lagoonal coastal environments.
Sedimentary structures: Sedimentary structures on all scales are superbly displayed, the largest visible for long distances. Examples in the Ashdown are upward-fining, low-angle point bar sequences and various types of channel and cross-bedded sandstone (up to 10 m thick and traceable for up to 0.5 km). In the Wadhurst Formation, pro-fan delta to top-fan delta sequences are seen in the lower and upper divisions respectively of the Cliff End Sandstone Member (10 m).
Structural geology: the exposures cut across the Fairlight Anticline and four fault zones are exposed - Foul Ness, Fairlight reversed, Haddock's reversed and Cliff End Faults.
Palaeontology: Palaeobotanical features include locally abundant drifted plant-fragments (including spores) and upstanding plants in growth positions. Some of the latter were strictly confined to shallow water (Equisetum); others were more or less subaerial (Lycopodites). The fossil soils and in situ plants support the theory of a warm semi-arid to monsoonal climate.
Animal fossils, entirely non-marine, include trace fossils, estherids, insects, molluscs, fish, reptile (crocodile, turtles, dinosaurs, pterosaurs) and early mammals. The Cliff End Pebble Bed which is a rich repository of these, lies in the lower Wadhurst Clay above the Cliff End Sandstone Member. Dinosaur footprints are abundant in the Lee Ness Sandstone near the base of the Ashdown Group, but occur at intervals throughout the sequence.

Site map - Aerial photography 2005 - Survey visits 16/04/2011 & 24/08/2011

Sections:

Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4

Click sections on map to view

Site access:
The western part of the site is accessible along the foreshore from the eastern end of the waterfront at Hastings where there is a car park. Access to the eastern part of the site is along the foreshore from Pett Beach where there is a small car park and parking by the road. The foreshore along the central part of the site is also accessible from the footpath down Fairlight Glen but care must be taken through the lower section which is affected by landslipping.
The foreshore is only accessible at low tide and the wavecut platform has variable sand and shingle cover. Cliffs are visible from the foreshore but the access is difficult due to the height and potential for rockfalls. Extreme care should be taken if approaching cliffs. However there is plenty of fallen debris on the beach for examination.

SSSI Designation Criteria (citation):
SSSI Reasons for Notification - edited extracts
This coastal site is of great geological and biological importance. Its palaeobotanical and vertebrate palaeontological fossils are some of the best examples of their type in the world, while two sections of the cliffs show a complex pattern of faults. A number of habitats are represented including woodland (much of it ancient), scrub, maritime grassland and a vegetated shingle beach. These support a number of rare bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), lichens, flowering plants and beetles (Coleoptera).

There are 6 km of eroding seacliffs giving the furthest south easterly exposures of the lower Hastings Beds Group. The section is continuous from the basal Ashdown Sand Formation (Berriasian) to the lower Wadhurst Clay Formation (Valanginian).

A broad facies change may be observed, from meander plain sediments (varicoloured lateritic clays and silts) in the lower Ashdown, to coastal braid-plain sandstones in the upper Ashdown Sand, and lagoonal/lake deposits in the Wadhurst Clay Formation (dark clays with a minor fan-delta sandstone). Sedimentary structures on all scales are superbly displayed, the largest visible for long distances. Diagenetic petrography of the clays and sandstones gives important evidence on the climate, soil conditions and burial-history of the rocks.

Palaeobotanical features include locally abundant drifted plant-fragments (including spores) and upstanding plants in growth positions. The fossil soils and in situ plants support the theory of a warm semi-arid to monsoonal climate.

Animal fossils, entirely non-marine, include trace fossils, estherids, insects, molluscs, fish, reptile (crocodile, turtles, dinosaurs, pterosaurs) and early mammals. Dinosaur footprints, rain prints and suncracks, occurring at intervals throughout the sequence, testify to periodic exposure of the sediments.

As a classic type-section of the Wealden this site is of national and international importance for reference, and has great potential for research.

GCR Site Account:
- edited extracts:
Block: Wealden (Site Code 2725)

Magnificent cliff and foreshore sections of the Ashdown Beds and Wadhurst Clay formations (lower Hastings Beds Group) are exposed on the faulted Fairlight Anticline along 7 km of the East Sussex coast. The site is the most extensive in the Wealden of the Weald type-area and has long been a popular destination for geological field meetings.

The Ashdown Beds are mostly non-calcareous, poorly cemented mudstones, siltstones, fine sandstones, mudclast/siltstone breccias, lignitic plant debris beds and ironstones. All display a high degree of lateral facies change and channelling. Broadly, the succession coarsens upward from the mud and silt-dominated lower Ashdown Beds ('Fairlight Clays') to the more arenaceous middle and upper Ashdown Beds ('Ashdown Sand'). Remains and traces of plants (non-vascular and vascular), invertebrates (molluscs, arthropods) and vertebrates (fish, amphibians, reptiles, early mammals) occur throughout in a wide range of lithofacies. Allen (1975, 1981) proposed that the whole Ashdown sequence was fluvial-alluvial, passing upwards from muddy meanderplain to sandy braidplain facies, representing the distal outwash of fans emerging from Londinia.

The bulk of the Wadhurst Clay Formation is dominated by mudstones, siltstones and sandstones; the latter including the conspicuous Cliff End Sandstone Member. These have been interpreted to represent muddy alluvial-lagoonal environments with sandy channels or local fan deltas. Fossils from the mudstones include plants, palynomorphs, bivalves, ostracods and vertebrate debris. The Cliff End Sandstone contains in situ plants, bivalve moulds and dinosaur bones. Vertebrate debris in the Cliff End Bone Bed comprises scales and teeth of the fish Lepidotes and Hybodus (a shark), reptilian (including crocodilian) teeth and bone, and teeth of primitive mammals.

The site is of national and international importance for clarifying the age, stratigraphy, depositional environments, invertebrate and vertebrate palaeobiology and palaeoecology of the lower Hastings Beds, and for clarifying relationships of small and often poorly exposed inland sites. The site has played important roles in the development of concepts concerning the biology, environments and climates of southern England during the Early Cretaceous and this seems likely to continue.

Extracted from Radley, D.J. and Allen, P. 2012. The Wealden (non-marine Lower Cretaceous) of the Weald Sub-basin, southern England. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association 123, 245-318.

(See also site descriptions for the Ecclesbourne Glen to Fairlight Cove section and the Foul Ness, Fairlight Cove and Cliff End local geological sites)

GCR Site Account - extracts:
Block: Jurassic-Cretaceous Reptilia (Site Code 918)

The Early Cretaceous sandstones and shales that outcrop along the coast and foreshore east of Hastings have been famous for 150 years for specimens of dinosaurs, crocodilians, turtles and footprints.

The most varied faunas of Early Cretaceous dinosaurs are known from the Wealden of Europe. One of the best of these faunas is from the Hastings Beds in their type area and the fossils include skeletons and footprints. Moreover, this is the only extensive, eroding coastal setting in these non-marine strata, which therefore has considerable potential for future finds. Previous finds include a selection of terrestrial and aquatic reptiles - two genera of turtles, four genera of crocodilians, one genus of theropod, two of sauropods, three of ornithischians, one genus of pterosaur and one plesiosaur.

Extracted from the Geological Conservation Review
Volume 39: Fossil Reptiles of Great Britain (1995)

(See also site descriptions for the Ecclesbourne Glen to Fairlight Cove section and the Foul Ness, Fairlight Cove and Cliff End local geological sites)

GCR Potential Site Account - edited extracts:
Block: Mesozoic-Tertiary Fish/Amphibia

The Early Cretaceous sandstones and shales that crop out along the East Sussex coast and foreshore east of Hastings have been famous for 100 years for specimens of fossil selachians and bony fishes. More recent discoveries include rare microvertebrate remains concentrated in the Cliff End Bone Bed.

Most of the fossil fish finds have been made from the Wadhurst Clay at Hastings, East Cliff and Cliff End.

Hastings is the type locality for the hybodont shark Hybodus parvidens, and two species of the pycnodont fish Coelodus, recovered from the Wadhurst Clay beds. A primitive actinopterygian has also been recovered from the Wadhurst Clay.

Extracted from the Geological Conservation Review
Volume 16: Fossil Fishes of Great Britain (1999)

(See also site descriptions for Foul Ness, Fairlight Cove and Cliff End Local Geological Sites)

GCR Site Account - Fairlight:
Block: Wealden (Site Code 2638)

This site encompasses disused quarries near Fairlight Church (TQ 859119) and 500 m to the south-west. The site exposes the highest 5 m of the Cliff End Sandstone member of the lower Wadhurst Clay. Various sedimentary structures and a probable leached palaeosol are seen. The quarries near Fairlight Church were the site of the Fairlight Borehole (TQ 85921173), which reached the upper part of the Upper Jurassic Kimmeridge Clay.

Here the Cliff End Sandstone comprises leached fine sand and soft sandstone, formerly worked as a source of glass and moulding sand. It is penetrated by thin vertical rootlets and possible stems (Fairlight Soil Bed). The plant structures are most abundant in the upper parts of the exposures. Bedding is locally convoluted and there are lenses and partings of pebbly sand and plant debris. The overlying Top Cliff End Pebble Bed (up to 0.3 m thick) rests on an unconformable erosion surface.

As elsewhere in the district, the higher beds of the Cliff End Sandstone are currently seen as fan-delta sands, spread across the muddy Wadhurst lagoon complex by energetic streams off the eastern (Kentish) end of Londinia. The overlying Top Cliff End Pebble Bed probably oversteps a small channel or blind gutter.

Extracted from Radley, D.J. and Allen, P. 2012. The Wealden (non-marine Lower Cretaceous) of the Weald Sub-basin, southern England. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association 123, 245-318.

(See also site descriptions for the Ecclesbourne Glen to Fairlight Cove section and the Foul Ness, Fairlight Cove and Cliff End local geological sites)

GCR Site Account - Cliff End:
Block: Mesozoic Palaeobotany (Site Code 2352)

(See site description for Cliff End Local Geological Site)

GCR Site Account - Cliff End:
Block: Mesozoic Mammalia (Site Code 541)

(See site description for Cliff End Local Geological Site)

GCR Site Account - Covehurst
Block: Mesozoic Palaeobotany (Site Code 921)

Not available


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