Finding fossils


Geology’s fascinating – but complicated. I’ve always yearned to find out more, which is why I took a course in it about 25 years ago. It was a Birmingham University extramural course, and even had an exam at the end

Perhaps the best thing was that the course was led by Dr Peter Toghill, author of “The Geology of Shropshire” (and other works). Peter is a great communicator and wonderfully knowledgeable, particularly about Shropshire’s rocks – and that was what interested me.

I learnt about the differences between the red sandstones of Grinshill and Bridgnorth (the latter was formed in a desert), the mineralisation process that gave us the lead deposits at Snailbeach and even where to find a fossilised volcanic explosion!

However, my fellow student and I were captivated by fossil hunting. It’s almost impossible not to be; opening the layers of a lump of shale to find a creature that hasn’t seen daylight for 500 million years is just, well, WOW!

We uncovered graptolite fossils near Buttington (OK, so that’s just in Wales) that look more like plants than animals; trilobites in Mortimer Forest that readily split into their 3 lobes so a complete one is a joy; literally millions of bivalves and sponges in the quarries of Wenlock Edge; and the cricket ball-sized Gigantoproductus shells of the Oswestry limestone.

The most exciting (sounding) visit was to the Ludlow bone beds. I’ve seen the TV documentaries of palaeontologists unearthing huge T Rex thigh bones in Utah. Let’s go. Now!

Sadly it’s not quite like that, but still just as fascinating. This rock horizon is just a few inches thick but is jam-packed with fossilised bones, teeth and scales from primitive fish. It is marking a transition from life solely in the sea to life on land – the origin of you and me.

In the 1830s the great geologist Sir Roderick Impey Murchison described and established the Silurian system of rocks through his work in the Marches. His work made famous Shropshire place names – Wenlock and Ludlow describe rocks types found throughout the world that are still a Mecca for students of geology today.

These days I find it virtually impossible to go for a walk without looking at the rocks at my feet, trying to remember my geology and hoping, just hoping I’ll find a fossil. My garden is a testament to this fascination. No, not a 1960’s style rockery, rather lumps of interesting rock I’ve collected around Shropshire and beyond as ornaments on the garden wall or in flower pots. I even have a piece of Ludlow bone bed as a desk ornament. There’s nothing weird about that, is there?

John Hughes garden


John Hughes

Shropshire Wildlife Trust