Geology Site Account
The Cliff SSSI , ALTHORNE, Maldon District, TQ92149678, Site of Special Scientific Interest
Site name: The Cliff SSSI (also known as Butts Cliff), Althorne, near Burnham-on-Crouch
Grid reference: TQ 9214 9678
Brief description of site:
The Cliff or Butts Cliff is a low cliff of London Clay on the north shore of the River Crouch, between Althorne and Burnham-on-Crouch. It is an interesting site which has yielded a remarkable number of London Clay fossils since it was discovered in the early 1970s. These include fossil fish (mainly sharks’ teeth), crustaceans and bird bones. The fossils have been washed out of the clay by the tide and are found loose in the beach shingle. It is the type locality for several species.
Also known as Butts Cliff this is one of the most important London Clay sites in Britain. A cliff on the outer bend of the River Crouch near Burnham-on-Crouch is being eroded and London Clay fossils such as sharks' teeth can be found in the beach shingle below the cliff. Selenite (gypsum) crystals can also be found. There has been extensive collecting since the site was first discovered in the early 1970s and it has yielded a remarkable fossil fauna.
The most important fossils are the bones of birds. This includes type specimens of two small species, Coturnipes cooperi (a game bird) and Parvicuculus minor (a protocuculid). The site is of considerable value in expanding the limited knowledge of small Eocene birds species and avian evolution.
The site also yields similar fish species to those from Sheppey; however, unlike that site it is possible to bulk sample material at Burnham and thus obtain quantifiable faunas. The assemblage consists mainly of shark, particularly hexanchids, and this material is better preserved than at Sheppey (although lacking in nodules). It is the type locality for several fish species, for example the shark Weltonia burnhamensis and the ray Burnhamia daviesi.
Finding fossils at Althorne today requires good eyesight and a lot of patience. Searching is usually carried out by lying on the beach.
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Reference: Rayner et al. 2009 (p. 22), Saward 2015.
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