Brymbo Fossil Forest
This is a summary of all the fantastic work that is currently underway to carefully un-cover the 300 million year old fossil located on the Heritage Site.
Brymbo Fossil Forest is set to be the jewel in the crown of the Trust’s ‘Stori Brymbo’ project. Read about how it all fits together to tell a powerful story linking nature, industry and people here…
During work on the Brymbo steel works site in 2003 several large tree-like fossils were uncovered while open-cast mining overlying coal. After initial assessment by Peter Appleton and Dr Jacqui Malpas, five years of excavation revealed thousands of fossils and over 20 large tree trunk like structures with rooting networks perfectly preserved, some measuring up to 2.5 meters in height! Coal has been mined on the Brymbo site since the 1400’s, all the while the miners blissfully unaware of the origin of the coal that they were labouring to extract.
The coal seams themselves were deposited as thick mats of plant debris approximately 300 million years ago in a period of deep geologic history known as the Carboniferous. This period of earths history is characterised by high levels of atmospheric oxygen (162% of the modern level) resulting from almost planet-wide tropical forests and swamps.
At this point in history, North Wales was situated upon the equator, therefore the forest here would have been hot and humid, and the plants and animals unsettlingly unfamiliar.
The forest at Brymbo during this time contained no flowering plants. In fact, it would be quite difficult to find many living representatives of the ancient flora preserved at the site. Instead of deciduous and pine trees the forests contained giant relatives of horsetails and club-mosses along with many groups of primitive plants that bore no ancestors that survive today. In-between the layers of coal at the Brymbo are layers of mudstone and sandstone that represent devastating flash flooding events that buried much of the river-delta in the area in sediment. The exposed rock section at Brymbo represents discrete flooding events that have preserved a variety of environments that are uniquely preserved at Brymbo.
BHT work to date...
We helped ensure that the site attained 'Site of Specific Scientific Interest' status in 2015, and to then secure funding for the site to be fully fenced. We worked with Natural Resources Wales, the National Galleries and Museums of Wales and Wrexham County Borough Council to conserve and enhance a number of the fossils excavated in 2003-2008, and to mount Brymbo-specific exhibitions in Wrexham and Cardiff. In 2018 the same partners helped us to recruit a full-time palaeontologist to oversee future work. Since then we have provided a number of free ‘crash courses’ in earth science subjects to attract interested individuals and built a large volunteer base to help curate fossil material and protect the fossil forest.
Tim joined the BHT team in 2018 as the fossil forest's dedicated palaeontologist. Tim has helped spread awareness of the Fossil Forest Project and to prepare for the excavation, conservation and interpetation work ahead. He has promoted the project and the teamss work at academic conferences, with local schools and hosted a number to the site.
We have a diverse core of dedicated volunteers who have been working on the site since 2018. They have carried out vital fossil rescue excavations to stop exposed fossils from weathering away and have covered the site in tarp and sandbags every winter to protect it from the elements. Lots of the fossils that have been recovered from the site are kept at Brymbo and the volunteers have been tirelessly preparing, identifying and cataloguing them in a digital archive.
In association with Bangor University, a KESS 2 East Scholarship project was started, supported partly by European Social Funds through the Welsh Government and partly by the BHT. This is a PhD project based in the Molecular Ecology and Evolution lab in Bangor (MEEB) and Tom Hughes (the student) is researching how these ancient plants lived around each other and how they interacted with their environment. He is using geochemical techniques such as stable carbon isotopes to see how they used water during photosynthesis and therefore what sort of environment/climate they lived in.
The planned excavation of the site and erection of a building to protect and display the fossil forest is the first step in beginning to unlock the potential of this important scientific resource for the public, education and the scientific community. Excavating, preserving and displaying this geologic marvel is of the upmost importance not only in relation to local history but for global natural history. Such a potential educational resource needs to be protected and utilised to foster a greater appreciation of the earths diverse history, the evolution of ecosystems and, perhaps most importantly, how climate change can impact global environments. The fossil forest at Brymbo represents a truly exciting prospect, an in-situ palaeontological window into a 300 million year old environment, an environment that is intrinsically tied to the local heritage in that it was responsible for producing the coal that allowed the community to thrive during the industrial revolution. But it is also a stark reminder that in the past 200 years humanity has burned hundreds of thousands of years worth of carbon sequestered by these primitive forests. The introduction of huge quantities of carbon into the atmosphere that had been entombed for millions of years is thought to be one of the fundamental factors contributing to the climate change that threatens global ecosystems today.