Friday, 25 February 2011


BBC TV's CountryFile visited the park on Friday 25th to do a story about the local geology. Beside me wearing the scarf is Matt Baker the presenter, with Steve Boreham from Cambridge University's geography department, along with his colleague Chris on the right.

Matt is holding a thigh bone of an extinct straight-tusked elephant discovered under the beach at Coopers Beach here in East Mersea about 80 years ago. East Mersea has been known for almost a hundred years as a place where 100,000 year old animal bones have been found.

This huge thigh bone of a straight-tusked elephant was borrowed from Colchester Natural History Museum where its jawbone is kept on permanent display. These elephants were almost twice the size of today's African elephant and weighed up to nine tonnes. They died out at the beginning of the last Ice Age.

Two other animal bones from East Mersea pictured above, on the left is a hippopotamus tusk alongside a molar tooth of an extinct narrow-nosed rhinoceros. The climate 100,000 years ago was probably similar to that of the current south of France.
Also found in the past at Coopers Beach, referred to by the geologists as the "restaurant site", were the bones of spotted hyaena and the giant deer whose males carried a massive three metre wide antler span.

At the base of the park cliff, Steve is boring down into the clay and gravel layers hoping to reveal the presence of small shells which would indicate a much older estaurine bed. Research on the Cudmore Grove beach and cliff has been going on for 25 years and one rich organic layer was meticulously dug out in the mid 1980's. Amongst the 1500 mammal bone fragments were found macaque ape, wolf, brown bear, beaver, red squirrel, lots of voles and shrews.

The various amphibians and reptiles such as tree frog, pool frog, terrapin great crested newt and aesculapian snake have given us huge clues as to the landscape of East Mersea 300,000 years ago. Knowing their various habitat requirements where they still live today, suggests to us a freshwater river, flowing into a brackish lagoon surrounded by marsh, grassland, scrub and woodland all fairly close to each other. The forty-eight species of beetle discovered here also tell us there were plenty of oak, alder, pine, ash and silver fir trees on East Mersea between the last two Ice Ages. Lots of other smaller plants have been identified by pollen remains.

Matt Baker is helping to pull a very powerful ground-penetrating radar across the park. Steve is following behind watching the laptop for the images the radar provides it of the different layers of sand and gravel underground. The sand and gravel cliff was thought to have been laid down by the river Thames /Medway 300,000 years ago when it flowed north over Essex. However a recent re-assessment helped by this radar suggests the gravels were probably laid down by the very early Colne and Blackwater rivers. This research is still ongoing.

The date for the programme transmission has now been scheduled for Sunday 13th March - a week later than initially planned.


Darren Jacks said...


We was up at Mersea on saturday and found what appears to be a large snake fossil in clay/ stone.

We are interested to find out waht it is as it is rather large and you can see the scales.

Do send me your email and i will send you some pictures.

Darren Jacks

Dougal Urquhart said...

Hi Darren,
The photos would be interesting to look at.
Send them to;