North Yorkshire’s rocks, fossils, and changing environments will be the stars of a newly formed science project based in Scarborough. ‘GEMS of North Yorkshire’ brings together the University of Hull’s Geology Hull and North Yorkshire Partnership Hub teams, and Scarborough-based education and outreach specialist, Hidden Horizons. The project will use school activities and public events to promote geological, environmental, and marine science (GEMS), with the aim of widening participation in these fields.
Dr Liam Herringshaw, Geology Hull lecturer, said “the ‘GEMS of North Yorkshire’ project offers a terrific opportunity to engage North Yorkshire schools and residents with the amazing landscapes on their doorstep. It’s really exciting to be working with Hidden Horizons and the University of Hull’s North Yorkshire Partnership Hub to deliver the activities. We will also team up with Scarborough & North Yorkshire Children’s University to provide learning opportunities for primary-aged children.”
Starting in 2020, the project will offer a series of school activities and public events, delivered alongside educational web resources uncovering some of the GEMS of North Yorkshire.
For further details, contact Rich Adams (North Yorkshire Partnership Hub) on 01723 383884 (Twitter: @UniofHull_NYPH); Liam Herringshaw (Geology Hull) on 01482 465349 (Twitter: @GeologyHull), or Will Watts (Hidden Horizons) on 01723 817017 (Twitter: @H_Horizons).
About Geology Hull
Geology Hull is the geology teaching and research team in the Department of Geography, Geology and Environment at the University of Hull. We won the university Faculty of Science and Engineering’s Outstanding Team award in 2018, and our degree programmes were ranked 7th in the UK in the 2020 Guardian University Guide.
About the North Yorkshire Partnership Hub
The University of Hull’s North Yorkshire Partnership Hub is based in Scarborough. Our team is dedicated to building active partnerships to shape a brighter future for North Yorkshire. Our programmes in primary and secondary schools help to raise aspirations through our Scarborough & North Yorkshire Children’s University and the North Yorkshire Coast Higher Education Collaboration (NYCHEC). Our post-16 work helps to provide students with information, advice and guidance to help them make the best decisions for their future. Alongside a range of partners from business, the public and charity sectors, we’re helping our region fulfil its potential.
About Hidden Horizons
Established in 2013 by Will Watts, Hidden Horizons offer an exciting range of public and school events based on the outstanding geology and natural history of North Yorkshire. With sessions covering fossil hunting, stargazing, Forest School, Beach School, Bushcraft and more there really is something for everyone, with each session led by passionate experts in their field including three University of Hull graduates. In addition to the public and school sessions the company provides consultancy services to museums and heritage organisations including exhibition and interpretation support. Hidden Horizons also operates a sister company, GeoEd Ltd, one of the world leaders in the creation of replica fossils for education and museum settings.
In the summer of 2018, I was filmed in Scarborough by a TV production company making a series for Channel 5 about Sinkholes. As the episode has never been broadcast, I can only assume my performance was so dreadful, or so controversial, that it cannot be permitted to see the light of day, but I thought I’d blog about it anyway.
Warning! Non-landslide expert alert!
It all began when a Hull colleague of mine was contacted by the production company, who were trying to find a geologist who could tell them about coastal landslides in Scarborough. The 25th anniversary having just passed, I assumed the company was interested in the Holbeck Hall Hotel landslide. However, when I talked with them on the phone, this wasn’t the case. They’d heard only about a landslide in the spring of 2018, which I had to confess I knew nothing about.
From such inauspicious beginnings, our conversation piqued their interest in the Holbeck landslide, and mine in what was going on now. Both parties went away to do a bit more research, and when we spoke again a day or two later, it seemed there was enough of a story for them to want to do some filming, with me, in the South Bay.
Pretty much the best view in the world.
The following week, I found myself in the legendary Clock Café, holding a plastic box containing a miniature reconstruction* of the local geology. After nearly 40 years of yomping up and down the South Cliff on family holidays, suddenly I was there to explain its geological structure to the world. Well, to the viewers of Channel 5 at least.
(*comprising two beach cobbles, builders’ sand, some Plasticine and a Lego hotel. Sadly it will not make the cut.)
Now, I am definitely not a proper expert on coastal landslides, so – if the show is ever shown – writing this is perhaps a pre-emptive strike against looking like a dingbat on national telly**.
Nonetheless, I found the research really interesting, and turned up a history of landslides in Scarborough and the Yorkshire Coast that people might want to know about, So, rather than have it all go to waste, here are my findings.
In 1682, he notes, at Runswick Bay, “the entire village slipped into the sea”. On Christmas Eve, 1787, there was then a “great landslide” at Haggerlythe, Whitby, and in 1829, at Kettleness, “the whole village slid into the sea”.
For Scarborough’s South Bay, the landslide story begins in 1737, when buildings in the Spa area, which had only recently been rebuilt, were destroyed. No major events seem to have occurred for the next 250-odd years, until by far the most dramatic landslide in Scarborough’s 20th Century history – the collapse of the cliff beneath the Holbeck Hall Hotel in June 1993.
The landscaped site of the 1993 Holbeck Hall Hotel landslide (from Wikimedia Commons)
A detailed webpage on the Holbeck Hall Landslide is provided by the British Geological Survey, so there’s no sense in me rehashing their expert information. However, it is worth pointing out that the rotational landslide occurred because soft Ice Age sediments, into which rainwater can seep and pond quite readily, sit on top of well-lithified Middle Jurassic bedrock. The Scarborough Spa marks a spring line, where the waters can seep out, but if – as in 1993 – the volumes of water are large, and they accumulate rapidly, their escape can be catastrophic.
I found this photograph of the hotel (from a BGS blogpost marking the 25th anniversary of the landslide), taken by the British Geological Survey immediately post-landslide, particularly amazing, though the classic footage is this video, starring Richard Whiteley:
Countdown to collapse
And so we move to 2018, and the South Cliff landslip.
It appears that the incident the production team had been alerted to had occurred over the weekend of March 17th/18th 2018, following the wild weather of late February and early March. A retaining wall below the Clock Café was pushed onto the chalets beneath, leaving cracked pavements above it, the wall leaning towards the sea, and the listed chalets listing. It attracted a bit of press coverage:
Either way, in late November 2018, a new movement of soil behind the wall caused further collapse of the chalets, and the borough council decided to demolish them as a matter of urgency. In February 2019, it was reported that they would be coming down imminently, but I’ve not been down to check.
Cordoned off South Cliff chalets (photo credit: me)
At the same time that the South Cliff chalets slope failure occurred, remediation works were about to begin, to try and stabilize the cliffs above the Spa Complex, a short distance to the north. This South Cliff Slope Stabilization Scheme was not set to include the Clock Café area, but instead try to secure the long-term stability of the gardens above the economically and historically important Spa area. As explained in an October 2016 consultancy report:
“The South Cliff upon which the proposed works area lies is inherently unstable…Ground modelling and stability analyses undertaken previously have found that the slopes are close to failure, with potential for both shallow and deep-seated failure. Such failure could result in the loss of parts of the Spa Gardens, damage to the Esplanade and damage to or complete loss of The Spa Complex. There is also clear potential for injury and loss of life.”
Are you putting any money on these gardens lasting a century? (image from Wikimedia Commons)
Given the predictions of warmer, wetter weather, higher sea-levels, and increased storm frequency, one can only wonder how this coastline will cope with Anthropocene climate change. It was only just over a decade that a fairly large landslide occurred at Knipe Point, at the northern end of Cayton Bay, and the last couple of years have seen numerous small to moderate collapses. Whether it ever makes it onto screen, one of my conclusions for the TV company was that, when it comes to landslides on this stretch of coastline, geologically it’s not a matter of if, but when.
I was leading a Geology Hull first year fieldtrip to Filey on Thursday, in the teeth of a gale, barely able to be heard above the wind, barely able to see the cliffs through the clouds, barely able to get to the rocks because the waves were too high, the students struggling gainfully to begin collecting geological data, wondering what it was we were hoping to achieve. And then the wind dropped, and the clouds broke, and the sun came out, and the geology began to reveal itself – Ice Age tills full of exotic erratics; karst pavements on the wave-cut platform; giant storm-tilted boulders of sub-tropical Jurassic limestones, each latticed by a fabric of cemented lobster tunnels – and I suddenly paused, and wondered. The geology of the Yorkshire Coast is amazing, astonishing, stupendous: why isn’t it a UNESCO World Heritage site?
Just look at the burrows on that! Dr Richard Callow admires the amazing Thalassinoides trace fossils of Filey Brigg.
The Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site of Devon and Dorset is fantastic; this is not a competition. But the Yorkshire Coast is easily its equal. The geological, geographical and biological treasures it contains are just as diverse and significant, yet are offered up so much less easily, or obviously. Northerly, east-facing, precipitous, cool, dark, crumbling, brooding: this coast seems to reflect much of the local character. Yet at the same time it has uniqueness and richness, quirks and complexity; great warmth and wonder for those who choose to embrace it. There can be few more picturesque coastal villages in Britain than Staithes, there can be few grander panoramas in the country than Scarborough’s South Bay, there can be few finer coastal cliffs than those of Flamborough Head.
One way or another, 1988 was a momentous year for geology collections in the city of Hull. In March of that year, it was announced that – after a contentious government review – the Geology degree programmes at the University of Hull would cease. Most of the university’s rock and fossil specimens would move to other universities.
Based on this map from the UGC Earth Sciences Review, it’s easy to see how the Hull fossils ended up lost.
Then, in October 1988, workmen digging a drain in a central Hull car park stumbled upon some mysterious artefacts, including dinosaur bones. These turned out to be the remains of the basement of the city’s old Municipal Museum, destroyed in a World War Two air raid some 45 years earlier, and a project to reclaim the specimens took place the following year.
I’m also hopeful that we might use our university collections work to help find out more about the old Hull Municipal Museum collections too. So, watch this space, or this one, or this one, to see how we get on…
As the chief organizer of the 2018 Yorkshire Fossil Festival, I ought to have been doing a lot more promotion of the event, which is now less than 3 weeks away. Still, better late than never.
I’m delighted to confirm that the following organizations will be taking part, and bringing their finest fossiliferous activities along:
The Palaeontological Association will be 1) letting you make your own salt dough fossil; 2) taking you swimming* through a Jurassic sea; 3) playing the fossilization board game; and 4) having the brilliant palaeo-artist James McKay bring your fantastical fossil creatures to life!
University of Hull Geology group will be ‘Uncovering the Hidden Histories of Hull’s Lost Fossils’ (supported by the Ferens Education Trust) and also panning for gold!
Most of the references I discussed can be found on the website for the 2015 version of this site, here.
The new British Geological Survey appraisal of the shale gas/shale oil potential of the Wessex Basin (Oct 2016) can be found here.
The new ReFINE study (Dec 2016) on how much methane is escaping through natural fault zones in the UK can be read here.
Last but not least, a new study I have been involved with, trying to understand how climate change in the Jurassic led to the formation of organic-rich shales, can be read here. A less technical article on the study can be found here.
Indiana University Shale Research Lab, led by Dr Jurgen Schieber, who conducts a lot of very interesting research into how shales form.
More Gaps Than Shale, a paper by João Trabucho-Alexandre on how mudstones form, and how complete mudstone successions are. With perhaps the best abstract in a geological paper: “Ths wht th fn-grnd mrine sdmtry rcrd rlly lks like.”
He’s not a real professor, he’s not a real herring, but Professor Herring’s #NaturalHystery is really happening this summer, and will be a really different tour of York!
Say hello to Professor Herring!
From volcanoes and cholera to unicorns and Patagonians, the (mostly) scientific tales of the city will be revealed in this unique Festival of Ideas event, kindly supported by the Holbeck Trust innovation fund.
Professor Herring will introduce participants to many strange and interesting characters as we meander around the city centre. Are their tales all true though?
What lies beneath these streets?
Find out on Sunday June 14th…!
(P.S. Unlike most guided tours of York, this event is free, and if we see any ghosts all participants will get their money back.)
Whilst you’re waiting with anticipation for the audio recording to go live on YouTube, here is a link to the PowerPoint slides for the Lifelong Learning public lecture I gave on Thursday 19th of February: