Issue 26 of Deposits magazine in the Spring of 2011 included my article on fossil collecting at Bracklesham Bay in West Sussex, following in the footsteps of my guide book on Fossil hunting at Bracklesham & Selsey, published in 2009. This area has been well known for the foreshore exposures of Palaeogene and Quaternary geology since the mid-nineteenth century and is still very much an area for popular fossil collecting, as well as research. Many readers will have been to Bracklesham or Selsey to collect sharks’ teeth and may have even been lucky enough to find a piece of mammoth bone or tooth. The scientific value of the area is recognised by much of the coastline being designated as a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest (or SSSI). However, this has been impacted by two major coastal defence schemes at Selsey that were completed in 2013, significantly changing access to the foreshore and any exposures of the geology, as well as rendering my guide book in need of a major update.
In medieval times, Selsey was effectively an island, although this is no longer the case due to the construction of sea defences and land reclamation. However, Selsey remains a localised area of higher land surrounded by low-lying land prone to flooding (Fig. 1). It has also been an area of coastal erosion and loss of land to the sea throughout recorded history. The relatively unconsolidated Palaeogene and Quaternary sediments exposed in the low cliffs of the peninsula were easily eroded, particularly during storms driven by the prevailing south-westerly winds. Rising sea level since the end of the Pleistocene has undoubtedly played a part in this and has been a major consideration in the coastal protection schemes recently completed.
On the west side of the Selsey peninsula, the higher beds of the Selsey Formation (Eocene, Bracklesham Group) were commonly exposed on good low tides when the cover of beach sand had been removed by wave action. Tidal runnels carved in the foreshore exposures provided a supply of fossil detritus for sieving, while the sediments could be sampled for a rich assemblage of mollusc, vertebrate and microfossil material (Fig. 2). A visitor today will find all this dramatically changed. In fact, unfortunately, it has all disappeared.