Hastings to Pett Beach SSSI - Section 4

Coastal Section: Cliff End
Sussex RIGS number TQ81/13

Forms part of Hastings Cliffs to Pett Beach SSSI designated for its geological and biodiversity value (Site Code 1000193)

Designated specifically as a Geological Conservation Review (GCR) Site
   Block: Mesozoic Palaeobotany (Site Code 2352)
   Block: Mesozoic Mammalia (Site Code 541)
Forms part of Hastings to Pett Level Geological Conservation Review (GCR) Site
   Block: Wealden (Site Code 2725)
Forms part of Hastings Conservation Review (GCR) Site
   Block: Jurassic-Cretaceous Reptilia (Site Code 918)
   Block: Mesozoic-Tertiary Fish/Amphibia (Potential Site)

Grid Reference: TQ886125 to TQ889131

Click locations on map to view photos

Site access:
Access is from Pett Beach where there is a small car park and parking by the road.

The cliffs are accessible at low tide by walking westward along the foreshore. The high cliff sections are visible but access is limited by height and potential rockfalls. Great care must be taken and close approach to the cliffs avoided.

Access to the wave-cut platform material is limited by tides and shingle cover.

Summary description 24/08/2011
(from East Sussex RIGS Survey 2011)

Interest Feature(s)

Bedrock: About 600 m of undefended cliffs and foreshore exposing upper Ashdown Formation sandstones and the overlying lower Wadhurst Clay Formation (Cliff End Sandstone and overlying shales) dipping to the north. Cliffs are 20 to 30 m high. The Cliff End Fault is exposed at the northern end.
Stratigraphy: upper Ashdown and lower Wadhurst Clay Formations, Hastings Beds Subgroup, Wealden Group, Lower Cretaceous (Berriasian to Valanginian) in age. Type locality for the Cliff End Pebble Bed and Bone Bed which occur above the top Cliff End Sandstone.
Sedimentology: upper Ashdown Formation comprises sandstones with siltstone interbeds. Lower Wadhurst Clay Formation includes Cliff End Sandstone (15 m thick) and overlying shales which include the Cliff End Pebble Bed. The base of the Cliff End Sandstone (and Wadhurst Formation) is a thin clay ironstone which forms a notch in the cliff. The sediments are interpreted as having been deposited in meander plain, coastal braid plain and fan-delta environment.
Sedimentary structures: The structures include upward-fining, low-angle point bar sequences and various types of channel and cross-bedded sandstones in the Ashdown Formation. In the Wadhurst Clay Formation are pro-fan delta to top-fan delta sequences.
Structural geology: the Cliff End Fault is a normal fault downthrown to the north.
Palaeontology: the fossils found have been various and include plants and fossil soils. Non-marine fossils found include: ostracods, molluscs, fish. The Cliff End Bone Bed is rich in reptile and fish remains plus teeth of some early mammals (one of the few sites in the world for early Cretaceous mammals).
Superficial: submerged ancient forest of Pett Level is exposed on the foreshore at Pett at low tide. It is present along the entire site section and for several km beyond to the north east. This forest grew below the cliffs at Pett about 5200 years ago at a time when sea level was about 30 m lower than today. Roots, trunks, branches and in-situ boles occur in a bed of woody peat.
Geomorphology: the undefended cliffs are subject to active coastal erosion with rock and cliff falls and landslips.
Historical background: the site has been the source of mammalian fossils for 100 years.

RIGS Designation Details:


Stratigraphy: this cliff exposes Ashdown and Wadhurst Clay formations within the Hastings Group of the Lower Cretaceous. The sediments are interpreted as having been laid down the environments of a meander plain, coastal braid plain and fan-delta.
Sedimentology: the varied sediments include varicoloured lateritic clays and silts, dark clays, with minor fan-delta sandstone, Cliff End Pebble Bed.
Sedimentary structures: the structures include upward-fining, low-angle point bar sequences and various types of channel and cross-bedded sandstones in the Ashdown Formation. In the Wadhurst Formation are pro-fan delta to top-fan delta sequences.
Palaeontology: The fossils found have been various and include plants, fossil soils and in situ plants; algae, moss, pteridophytes and gymnosperms, in situ tree stumps (including the only examples in Britain of this age). Non-marine fossils found include: conchostracans, insects, molluscs, fish, reptile and early mammals (one of the few sites in the world for early Cretaceous mammals), including Dinosaur footprints, rain prints and suncracks. The Cliff End Pebble Bed is rich in reptile, fish and other fossils. The submerged forest on the foreshore is approximately 5200 years old.
Structural geology: there is a reverse fault, running WNW to ESE, with 50m downthrow to the NNE, which is believed to be related to the Weald Anticline.
Geomorphology: these coastal cliffs are subject to active erosion with land-slips, cliff falls and mud flows. An attempt has been made to reduce erosion by deposition of larvikite rock defence which is slowing the removal of rockfalls by the sea.
Historical background: the site as been the source of mammalian fossils for 100 years.
SSSI: the site is an SSSI for both geological and biological reasons. The beach and clifftop flora are of great importance.
Educational value: This site is of great educational and scientific importance. The palaeobotany and vertebrate palaeontology is of immense importance and the fossils found are some of the best examples of their type in the world. There is great potential for further research. The cliffs in the Hastings to Cliff End area are the type sections for the Hastings Beds Group, and in particular for the Cliff End Bone Bed. The site has been and is used as a study of sedimentation and palaeoenvironments in the Wealden. It is also easily visible and suitable for large parties, although care should be taken if approaching the cliffs.

SSSI Reasons for Notification - edited extracts relevant to Cliff End:

A facies change may be observed, from coastal braid-plain sandstones in the upper Ashdown Sand to lagoonal/lake deposits in the Wadhurst Clay Formation (dark clays with a minor fan-delta sandstone). Sedimentary structures on all scales are superbly displayed, the largest visible for long distances. Examples in the Ashdown are upward-fining, low-angle point bar sequences and various types of channel and cross-bedded sandstone (up to 10 m thick and traceable for up to 0.5 km). In the Wadhurst Formation, pro-fandelta to top-fandelta sequences are seen in the lower and upper divisions respectively of the Cliff End Sandstone Member (10 m).

Animal fossils, entirely non-marine, include trace fossils, estherids, insects, molluscs, fish, reptile (crocodile, turtles, dinosaurs, pterosaurs) and early mammals. The Cliff End Pebble Bed (Telham Pebble Bed) which is a rich repository of these, lies in the lower Wadhurst Clay above the Cliff End Sandstone Member.

(For more information see separate site description for Hastings Cliffs to Pett Beach SSSI)

GCR Site Account - edited extracts:

Block: Mesozoic Palaeobotany (Site Code 2352)

The upper Ashdown Formation at Cliff End contains the only known examples of in-situ remains of a lycopsid which has hitherto been informally identified as Isoetites.

Water-worn pebbles and cobbles of portions of the silicified tree-fern trunk of Tempskya schimperi Corda can be found loose on the shore; indeed these may be found occasionally almost anywhere along the beach from Cliff End to Hastings. They are derived from the basal Wadhurst Clay. The coast from Hastings to Cliff End is the only known location in Britain of representatives of the now extinct family Tempskyaceae.

Extracted from the Geological Conservation Review
Volume 22: Mesozoic to Tertiary Palaeobotany of Great Britain (2001)

GCR Site Account - edited extracts:

Block: Mesozoic Mammalia (Site Code 541)

The Cliff End Bone Bed occurs in the Wadhurst Clay approximately 3 m above the top of the Cliff End sandstone. It represents a reworked bone accumulation. Initial deposition of the bone materials was in a high-energy fluvial regime as winnowed lag deposits. The fluvial lag sediments were reworked during non-marine transgressions forming shoreline deposits.

Since the 19th century, the Cliff End Bone Bed has been a rich source of vertebrate materials, both body and trace fossils. Taxa include hybodont sharks, bony fishes, reptiles and mammals. Mammal remains are rare, representing perhaps 5% of all bones. All of the mammal fossils occur as isolated teeth. Groups represented are Eobaataridae, Spalacotheriidae, Dryolestidae and Aegialodontidae.

Cliff End represents the best Valanginian fossil mammal locality in Britain, and although the remains are merely isolated teeth, it is still one of the best such localities in the world, because similar-aged finds of mammals from North America and elsewhere also are fragmentary.

Extracted from the Geological Conservation Review
Volume 32: Mesozoic and Tertiary Fossil Mammals and Birds of Great Britain (2005)

GCR Site Account - edited extracts specific to Cliff End site:

Block: Wealden (Site Code 2725)

The Cliff End Sandstone itself comprises upward-coarsening cross-bedded and locally slumped sandstone with pebbly and lignitic horizons, lenses of bivalve moulds (Neomiodon and occasional 'Unio'), bone fragments (dinosaur bones at the shelly base near Cliff End) and a lag of intrabasinal and extrabasinal clasts.

Fallen blocks of sandstone near the Cliff End Fault (TQ 88741300) contain fragments of unidentified tree trunks and branches. Rooted lycopods (unidentified genus of quillwort) occur in situ near the base of the Cliff End Sandstone at Cliff End (TQ 887129) and sporocarps elsewhere in the nearby cliff-top Wadhurst Clay. The higher part of the sandstone is locally pale and leached and contains finely comminuted lignite and vertical rootlet traces (Cliff End Soil Bed. The rootlets are truncated by an erosion surface, locally overlain by a thin bed of coarse fining-upward rippled sand with extrabasinal pebbles of quartz, quartzite and chert. This is the Top Cliff End Pebble Bed.

North-east of the Haddock's Reversed Fault (TQ 887129; Fig. 23) the lenticular Cliff End Bone Bed (0-0.1 m thick) lies in the Wadhurst mudstones about 2.9 m above the Top Cliff End Pebble Bed. Erosively based in gutters and small channels, it is spectacularly rich in extrabasinal pebbles of white 'vein-quartz'. Intrabasinal clasts include mudstone, lignite and siderite-ironstone . The ironstone clasts have yielded a badly preserved but diverse palynomorph assemblage of Wealden age. Vertebrate debris comprises scales and teeth of the fish Lepidotes and Hybodus (a shark), reptilian (including crocodilian) teeth and bone, and teeth of primitive mammals.

Up to 16 m of laminated Wadhurst mudstone with lenticular siltstones and nodular sideritic clay-ironstone overlie the Cliff End Sandstone (e.g. east of Haddock's Reversed Fault, TQ 885125). These contain plant and vertebrate debris, bivalves (Neomiodon) and ostracods. Bioturbated horizons include small bivalve traces (Lockeia siliquaria) probably attributable to Neomiodon.

Extracted from Radley, D.J. and Allen, P. 2012. The Wealden (non-marine Lower Cretaceous) of the Weald Sub-basin, southern England. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association 123, 245-318.

GCR Site Account - edited extracts relevant to Cliff End:

Block: Jurassic-Cretaceous Reptilia (Site Code 918)

Dinosaur footprints have been recorded from the upper Ashdown beds at Cliff End. Turtle, crocodile and dinosaur bones have also been found in the upper Ashdown beds.

Reptile remains are also known from the Cliff End Bone Bed.

Further collections from bone-rich horizons such as the Cliff End Bone Bed may yield new genera of smaller reptiles: lizards, snakes, turtles.

Extracted from the Geological Conservation Review
Volume 39: Fossil Reptiles of Great Britain (1995)

GCR Site Account - edited extracts relevant to Cliff End:

Block: Mesozoic-Tertiary Fish/Amphibia (Potential Site)

The fish fauna from the Hastings district is largely represented by isolated skeletal elements and teeth of hybodont sharks and holostean grade bony fish.

Most of the fish finds have been made from the Wadhurst Clay at Hastings, East Cliff and Cliff End. However some remains, including specimens of Lepidotes spp. and Hybodus spp. have also been found in the underlying Ashdown beds exposed in the cliffs at East Cliff, Hastings, Fairlight Cove and Cliff End.

The Cliff End Bone Bed is a particularly well known vertebrate-rich level. The faunal assemblage includes abundant fish remains in association with rarer reptilian and mammalian material. At the type locality at Cliff End the bone-bearing level occurs at the top of the cliff and is not easily accessible. However the coast is subject to continuous erosion and slabs of the bone bed are frequently recovered from beach gravel at the foot of the cliff.

Extracted from the Geological Conservation Review
Volume 16: Fossil Fishes of Great Britain (1999)

Toot Rock, Pett Level. 18 April 2019 visit

(David Robinson & Peter Anderton)

East Sussex Local Geological Sites - Toot Rock Aerial

Area location map Toot Rock, Pett Level

Dungeness Area Map

Map of Rye, Dungeness, Romney Marsh area shows the old cliff line marking the edge of the large embayment formed by postglacial sea level rise about 6000 years ago and the complex shingle beach foreland which developed subsequently.

Cadborough Cliff LGS and Houghton Greencliff LGS include sections of the old cliff line and Toot Rock represents a former island close to old cliff line.

Based on Figure 6.46 in Geological Conservation Review Volume 28:
Coastal geomorphology of Great Britain (2003)
Chapter 6: Gravel and 'shingle' beaches.

Toot Rock, Pett Level

East Sussex Local Geological Sites - Toot Rock Aerial
1 2-3 4 5-6 7

1: East Sussex Local Geological Sites - Toot Rock at Pett Levels

East Sussex Local Geological Sites - Toot Rock at Pett Levels

Cliffs of former islet, isolated from sea about 5000 years ago. Outcrop of sandstone within the Wadhurst Clay formation.
Photo taken: 18/04/2019
Grid ref TQ89141363
Direction N

2: East Sussex Local Geological Sites - Toot Rock at Pett Levels

East Sussex Local Geological Sites - Toot Rock at Pett Levels

Cliffs of a former islet, isolated from sea about 5000 years ago. Outcrop of sandstone within the Wadhurst Clay formation.
Photo taken: 18/04/2019
Grid ref TQ89161366
Direction NW

3: East Sussex Local Geological Sites - Toot Rock at Pett Levels

East Sussex Local Geological Sites - Toot Rock at Pett Levels

Cliffs of a former islet, isolated from sea about 5000 years ago. Outcrop of sandstone within the Wadhurst Clay formation.
Photo taken: 18/04/2019
Grid ref TQ89161366
Direction NW

4: East Sussex Local Geological Sites - Toot Rock at Pett Levels

East Sussex Local Geological Sites - Toot Rock at Pett Levels

Cliffs of former islet, isolated from sea about 5000 years ago. Outcrop of sandstone within the Wadhurst Clay formation.
Photo taken: 18/04/2019
Grid ref TQ89151368
Direction N

5: East Sussex Local Geological Sites - Toot Rock at Pett Levels

East Sussex Local Geological Sites - Toot Rock at Pett Levels

Close-up of sandstone face showing cross-bedded layers.
Photo taken: 18/04/2019
Grid ref TQ89171373

6: East Sussex Local Geological Sites - Toot Rock at Pett Levels

East Sussex Local Geological Sites - Toot Rock at Pett Levels

Close-up of sandstone face showing bedding picked out by differential weathering, also some patches of honeycomb weathering.
Photo taken: 18/04/2019
Grid ref TQ89181373

7: East Sussex Local Geological Sites - Toot Rock at Pett Levels

East Sussex Local Geological Sites - Toot Rock at Pett Levels

Former sea cliff viewed from top of former islet Toot Rock, Pett Level.
Photo taken: 18/04/2019
Grid ref TQ89141372
Direction N

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