Redcar Rocks, responsibly

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Last month, I led a #FossilFriday event at Redcar Palace, taking people out onto the beach to hunt for fossils in the shingle, and bringing the specimens back to the Palace to discuss, describe, and draw. It was a fantastic day, and we’re going to do it again soon.

Redcar Rocks at the PalaeoPalace! Hopefully returning for Easter 2023.

I am now telling anyone who’ll listen that Redcar is a wonderful place to come fossil-hunting: the beach is easily accessible, the town has excellent transport links, there are cafes, shops and entertainment venues next to the beach, and the fossils are prolific.

After making one online recommendation, though, I had someone reply to me, saying they’d “found some amazing fossils at Redcar, [but] obviously couldn’t take them away as I believe the rocks are protected.”

This person is quite right. Redcar Rocks is part of the Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast SSSI, which includes various sites of special scientific interest. But what exactly are fossil-collectors allowed to do?

In 2021, as part of the Yorkshire Coast Rocks project, led by Steve Cousins, The Rock Showman, we created a page providing general advice for responsible fossil-collecting on the Yorkshire Coast. It’s always wise to check the details for specific sites too, though.

Redcar Rocks is described by DEFRA as one of the best-developed Early Jurassic successions in northwest Europe, with “finite and irreplaceable” resources. “Any activity which conceals or requires removal of part or all of the geological interest features can cause irreparable damage or destruction.”

However, in the same paragraph, the report says that fossil collecting the “is acceptable if undertaken in a responsible manner” and refers readers to a document on responsible collecting, produced by the English Geodiversity Forum. The EGF website seems to be glitched, but the file (from 2015) can be found here.

Confusingly, this document then offers no explicit guidance on fossil-collecting, other than again emphasizing that it needs to be responsible. Instead, it points readers to another document: Natural England’s guidance TIN111 on Managing geological specimen collecting, written in 2012. Does that provide the required guidance? No, it doesn’t! Instead, it says “[t]he principles of responsible collecting can be found in TIN112.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find TIN112 on the Natural England pages. Allegedly, TIN112 is available in the National Archive, but I clicked on the link and ended up back on the same webpage. Thankfully, I did find the file on the UKAFH website. And finally – FINALLY! – I can offer a quick summary of their key points of advice:

  • Permission to enter private land and collect geological specimens must always be gained. Elsewhere permission to collect may be required.
  • A clear agreement should be made with the landowner over the future of any specimens collected.
  • In general collect only a few representative specimens from fallen or loose material.
  • Any form of excavation is likely to require permission before it is undertaken.

So, as Redcar Rocks is a protected, but public, site, you don’t need permission to visit, and collecting specimens from loose material should be fine. But don’t hammer the rocks without permission from the authorities. I hope that clears things up!

Earth scientist in York, fossilist across Yorkshire. Co-director of the Yorkshire Fossil Festival and palaeontologist for hire. Can be found twittering, facebooking, and instagramming as @fossiliam.