The Coralline Crag, a Pliocene seabed (about 4 million years old) unique to Suffolk, is home to myriads of fossil sea shells. And amongst these relative giants, in 1977 Professor Richard West of Cambridge University discovered fossil pollen grains, so minute that no detail can be seen with the naked eye. It was obvious that they had arrived wind-blown from neighbouring land, and what trees they represented! There are giant redwoods, umbrella pines, and many others, now exotic to our shores, as well as more familiar oaks and birches. And thus was born the idea of Suffolk's Pliocene Forest, an interpretation project of over 100 sponsored living trees representing their Pliocene ancestral genera. They grow on private land at Sutton and walkers on the footpath passing by Rockhall Wood SSSI can see the young forest and GeoSuffolk's panel about the project. Click on the picture below for the large version.
Seven years on the trees are tall enough to 'paint the sky' - in Autumn, the coniferous Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, shows its beautiful foxy-red colouring along with the gentle pinks and reds of Taxodium distichum and Glyptostrobus pensilis with their preference for swampy conditions. The deciduous larches, especially Larix kaempferi are colourful and among the deciduous trees even the young pinnate leaved Meliosma veitchiorum demonstrates what splendour the future holds. Last but certainly not least are the Acers and Oaks - of the former Acer palmatum 'Ozakasuki' with its deep crimson blur has much promise along with A. davidii and A. saccharinum, as also do Quercus rubra and Q. pontica (Armenian Oak). The original Pliocene forest would have been equally pleasing to the autumn eye.
Taxodium distichum and Glyptostrobus pensilis
Life the Universe and Sutton Knoll, Barry Hall's personal account of the inception, creation and growth of the Pliocene Forest has been published in A Celebration of Suffolk Geology (2012, Editor Dr Roger Dixon).
The Crag Fauna
The Crag sands deposited by the Pliocene North Sea are Suffolk's fossil El Dorado. Here lie the remains of extinct whales which sang unknown songs of ancient Suffolk whilst they were hunted by giant sharks. On land the spectacular fauna included tapirs, mastodons and red pandas - denizens of the original Pliocene forest. This paradise was lost when Suffolk shivered in the wilderness of the Ice Age.
Only hollows remain where once were fossil sea shells, inhabitants of the Coralline Crag sea.
A temporary excavation in the Red Crag at Sutton enabled a look at some of the quieter animals of this locality's other unattainable sea (about 2.5 - 3 million years old) - a left-handed whelk (illustrated), some beautiful top-shells and a cockle named after Dr Parkinson.
More Fossil Plants
Also of interest is the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park Ice Age tree trail in Southwark. See the 34 tree species that arrived after the Ice Age and before Britain became an island.
Glasgow's Fossil Grove in Victoria Park shows Carboniferous fossil trees in situ. The Strathclyde Geoconservation Group's leaflet is a good introduction to the site.
The type site of the Ipswichian interglacial is at the Bobbitshole sewage works just to the east of Belstead Brook Park in Ipswich and GeoSuffolk has an information panel in the car park there. In June 2017, as part of a Suffolk Wildlife Trust bioblitz we ‘geoblitzed’ the fossil plants in Richard West’s Ipswichian list (published in The Transactions of the Royal Society May 1957) to see how many are living there today. The results are reported in the Suffolk Biodiversity Information Service Newsletter, Summer 2017, Return to Bobbitshole by Caroline Markham.