On Saturday 23rd of June 2018, UKAFH visited Breakheart Quarry, which is situated to the north east of Bristol just above the village of Dursley. The quarry and surrounding woodland is owned and run by the Breakheart Community Project and is always accessible when parking outside the gates. The car park is open when volunteers are on site during weekdays and most weekends, when the visitor’s center is also open. For our hunt Ray, the owner, had set up signs for us at the entrance and allowed us to park outside the visitor’s center, which gave us quick access to both the quarry and facilities.
Breakheart Quarry lies on a 54-acre site amidst a semi-ancient woodland on a hill where many species of flora and fauna can be found. There are two quarries – upper and lower – however, the lower quarry is unfossiliferous. In complete contrast the upper quarry is full of fossil bivalves, brachiopods, echinoids and on rare occasions, ammonites and gastropods. The quarry site provides excellent facilities including conference room, toilets, tea and coffee station and shelter from wind, rain and scorching sun and is suitable for children of all ages.
The weather was glorious and sunny, we all met just outside the refreshments hut where Lizzie Hingley, Lee-anne Collins and Nicky Parslow welcomed everyone. It was particularly gratifying to meet so many families who lived locally. Once we had all checked in Ray Pekala led us to the conference room and gave us a very warm welcome and explained the history behind the quarry. Over the years Breakheart Quarry has had many uses including testing non-hazardous explosives, WWII activities and more recently by British Nuclear Fuels who used the stone as a base for the M5 motorway and to build parts of the nearby Berkeley nuclear facility. The quarry was left disused from 2008 when it was taken over by locals who formed the Breakheart Community Project charity with the aim of restoring the area to its former natural state for visitors to enjoy. The charity relies exclusively on donations.
We then moved to the undercover picnic tables so we could see some of the fossils that we might be able to find in the upper quarry. Nicky provided a “show and tell” of some of the fossils that could be found which included echinoids, bivalves, ammonites and brachiopods. Nicky explained that although bivalves and brachiopods look extremely similar (both have shells and look like molluscs), in fact brachiopods are not related to molluscs at all but belong in their own family. Nicky explained the easiest way to clean the fossils is by soaking in warm water for half an hour and then scrubbing with a toothbrush. Once dry, if there was any remaining matrix, this might be possible to remove using a dental pick.
In the quarry the land has been taken back to a layer of Trigonia grit, which is a lower layer of the upper Inferior Oolite. The Trigonia grit was named after the triangular shaped bivalve that is commonly found in the layer. This was laid down approximately 176 million years ago in the Jurassic period when the location would have been much nearer the equator and more tropical than today. The warm sea would have been relatively shallow which is shown both by the fossils we found and the rocks they came from. Ooliths (the round particles in the rock) were formed when grains of sand or shell fragments were rolled around on the sea floor gathering calcium carbonate. Over time they grew in size and once fossilized, becoming the rock we now know as oolite.
We walked as a group along the path to the far end of the upper quarry just before the it disappears into an escarpment and dispersed into small groups among the young trees. The upper quarry has many young birch trees and a network of paths and BMX tracks which help with break the rubbly ground and allows the fossils to emerge. As the temperatures started to soar we found ourselves looking amongst the broken stones under the trees and bushes.
Very quickly we started to get our fossil eyes and were able to pick out the fossils from amongst the creamy white floor. Jenna very quickly found a handful of bivalves and brachiopods. To make sure everyone in the group could find a fossil, Nicky ran a couple of games of “find the fossil” helping those who hadn’t found anything. Luckily most of the fossils we found were loose amongst the rubble on the floor and most of them had very little matrix left on them; this is one location where having a hammer is not an advantage!
Jenna was the first person to find a handful of fossils. Zac Kitson found a lovely Terebratula brachiopod (lamp shell), Sophie Bryant found a beautifully detailed Rhynchonelloidea brachiopod and miniature wild strawberries growing under the trees. Probably the best find of the day was an exquisite echinoid found by Lizzie Coyne, which was very detailed and perfectly preserved. Terry Newsome and Zac Broderick found huge lamp shells. Several of the group found small echinoids and Nicky Parslow found part of a Trigonia bivalve.
At just after midday we moved back to the refreshment hut for lunch and some time to cool down under the cover of the larger trees on picnic blankets whilst the children played on the swings and slides.
After lunch, we walked back to the upper quarry and went to the middle area of the quarry for fresh finds.
Here are some photos of the days finds.
Sadly, our day came to end and it was time to leave and say our goodbyes. As we made our way back home many of us would have driven along the M5 and maybe a few of us would be thinking about all the fossils that would be buried under the concrete.
Thank you to everyone who attended this fossil hunt! It really was a great and friendly group of people and we hope that everyone enjoyed the day as much as we did and we hope that you will be able to return to Breakheart Quarry and find more lovely fossils.