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Fossils can be found along the entire stretch of coast between Highcliffe and Barton on Sea, however the Barton Clay is best represented towards the former, where a near complete sequence is exposed in the slumping cliffs.Travelling east the gently dipping beds become progressively obscured below beach level, simultaneously providing access to the overlying formations.During periods of transgression (rising sea levels) the coastline was pushed inland, reducing the supply of sand to the Barton area and favouring the accumulation of silt/mud.The fossils of the Barton Clay reveal a diverse marine and neighbouring terrestrial ecosystem, the latter of which is evidenced by fossilised plant material – mostly drift wood.Immediately left (as it appears) of the Needles is Alum Bay, another classic fossil hunting location and a continuation of the Barton Clay discussed below.Above: An early morning view across the Solent towards the Needles from the beach at Barton on Sea.However it’s the marine mollusc fauna which attracts the most attention, in particular the shells of gastropods, bivalves and scaphopods (see example fossils below).These fossils provide evidence of a benthic mollusc fauna consisting of many hundred of species.
Above: View from Highcliffe across the slumping cliffs beneath Barton on Sea.During periods of regression (falling sea levels) the shallowing sea forced the coastline seaward and closer to the Barton area, delivering a greater volume of sand to the area.Clay on the other hand (formed of silt/mud) is indicative of a deeper, low energy setting – the finer particles are able to remain suspended within the water and travel a greater distance from their source, before settling to the sea floor.Neither of the latter formations are the subject of this report, however it should be noted that the Chama Sand appears towards the top of the cliff, close to where the above panoramic was taken, and descends gradually as the beds dip eastward.The overlying Becton Sand appears at the top of the cliff a short distance from the sea defences to the east.
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Above: A close-up of the Needles through a zoom lens.