Fenn’s, Whixall & Bettisfield Mosses

On a cold but sunny winters day I made what is my second visit this area.  The picture above is from a previous trip when the weather was a lot warmer.  It was still freezing on my visit the other day, despite it being in the middle of the day.
DSCN0641Location & Access: The Fenn’s, Whixall & Bettisfield Mosses straddles the English-Welsh border about 5 miles south-west of Whitchurch.  There is no major road to the site, so you’ll have to take one of the narrower country lanes off the A495, B5476 or B5063.  If you fancy taking a boat though the Llangollen Canal runs through the middle of the site.  The site is relatively flat and shouldn’t provide any problems, though the walk from one of the carparks can be a bit of a trek if you have mobility problems.

Geology: The geology of the area is perhaps less obvious than the hills & valleys I normally write about.  The Mosses are a rare environment, being a lowland raised bog and small areas of wetland it is a unique habitat for wildlife too.  Their formation began about 12,000 years ago as the ice sheets retreated north.  In amongst the till were depressions filled with water and melting ice.  These formed the kettle holes that dominated the north Shropshire, south Cheshire and Wrexham area.  Some of the these holes remained full of water and form the numerous kettle ponds that can be found in the area.  Good examples can be found in Ellesmere and Delamere.  In the case of the Mosses the hole filled up with layer upon layer of peat.  This has created an acidic peat bog that has made a fantastic, albeit soggy under foot, environment and a link to our country’s icy past.

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Wildlife: Besides the peat bog and its like to an ancient glacial past the Mosses is a great place for wildlife…well when its not frozen over ;).

Alongside the myriad of insects and spiders there are also adders and a wide range of birds, and according to one local I spoke to, the rarely sited water shrew.  Unfortunately due to it being winter I didn’t see most of these.  I did manage to get some pictures of the water fowl in the area.

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These are my first attempts at photographing flocks of birds in flight.  I had mixed results with many of pictures focusing on the background rather than the birds, but I don’t think they’re too bad for a first timer.  The ducks that I’ve managed to get shots of include Shovelers (Anas clypeata), Wigeons (Anas penelope), Teals (Anas crecca) and Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos).  I also saw some Pintails (Anas acuta) and Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus) but happened to be changing the battery at the time.

References: Fundamentals of the Physical Environment (3rd Edition) by P. Smithson, K. Addison & K. Atkinson (2002).  Geology (2nd Edition)by S. Chernicoff (1999).  Geology of Shropshire (2nd Edition) by P. Toghill (2006).  The Geology of Britain – An Introduction by P. Toghill (2006).   iGeology map from the BGS (2015).  Information leaflet from the site and produced by Natural England and Cyngor Cefn Gwlad Cymru (Countryside Council for Wales).

 

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Lilleshall Abbey

As part of my visit to the Lilleshall area the other day I also visited Lilleshall Abbey.  The abbey is an fine ruined example of a 12th Century Augustinian abbey.

Location & Access: Lilleshall Abbey is located to the south-east of the village, along Lilyhurst Road.  The site is run by English Heritage and is one of their sites that is free to visit.

DSCN0445What’s there: Like most abbeys from the era, Lilleshall’s is in a bit of a ruinous state, partly because of its age and partly because of the disillusion of the monasteries under Henry VIII.  The information boards provide you with a good deal of info about the site.

You can walk through the main entrance of the abbey, down the nave of the main building.

DSCN0455One of the remaining towers can still be climbed, and it is a great place to view the whole abbey.  Warning: The stairs up to the abbey are narrow and winding, though in good condition.  The stair case is dark and there is only enough space at the top of the tower for one person at a time.

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Along with the red sandstone walls of the nave (did you really think I’d get through this post without a geology reference?), you also can roam the old cloisters some of the adjacent rooms.

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Overall a nice place to visit if you have half hour to spare.  The site isn’t that large so unless you are really into abbeys it won’t take you that long to walk around it.  Great place to get some photos though if you can get the light right…unfortunately on the day I went it was grey and overcast so the shots I got were average at best.  I shall have to return one day for some more.

Lilleshall Mount

About halfway between Telford and Newport, along the A518 is the lovely little village of Lilleshall.  Watching over it is the Lilleshall Hill.  At 132m high above the flat farmland it’s pretty hard to notice,  especially with a 21m high monument sitting on top of it.

Location & Access: The Hill is just to the east of the A518 and can be accessed via a small tract just off a road called Hillside East which comes off just opposite the church.  There isn’t a lot f space to park in the village so you may have to pull in to the side of the road just outside.  At just over 100m above the plain it’s hardy a struggle to climb up, though the path can be a little muddy after it has rained.  The path slopes gently and so should prove too much of a problem.

Geology: Lilleshall Hill represents the northern most exposure of the Uriconian Volcanic group and is itself made up of a mixture of rhyolite, andesite, basalt and tuff.  This would make the formation about 542-635 million years old.

DSCN0432There are a few decent exposures for anyone who wants a sample, and being the short then its relatives the Wrekin and Caradoc it takes a little less effort for those who don’t want to climb for too long.

For a modest sized hill you can get a decent view of the Wrekin to the south-west as well as the sandstone ridges that rise out of the North Shropshire and South Cheshire plains.

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Other Stuff: The Monument is dedicated to the first Duke of Sutherland and is pretty impressive.

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Dedicated to George Granville Leveson-Gower, the 1st Duke of Sutherland, it looks to be made of local sandstone.  I rather enjoy the inscription and how he is described as “the most just and generous of landlords”.  I’d like to hear what his tenants really thought of him, though I shall be very unscientific and read between the lines of the “he went down to his grave with the blessing of his tenants” as perhaps giving a hint of that.  For those who maybe unaware, this Duke of Sutherland was one of the richest men of his era and he was in part responsible for the Highland Clearances that were taking place in Scotland at the time…a fantastic example of the needs of the rich capitalist overriding those of the poor labourer…sorry went on a ‘high horse’ moment there.  But seriously if you’re unaware of the main cause for the Scottish Highlands being one of the least populated parts of Europe then I suggest you read up on it.

Anyway back to happier things.  The light scrub land around the hill, coupled with the farmers’ fields in the area makes it a good place to see wildlife (in particular birds).  Sparrowhawks, buzzards, wrens, finches and woodpeckers are common sights.

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Reference: The Geology of Britain; An Introduction by Peter Toghill (2006),  iGeology map from the BGS (2014) and the notice board from the site, Wikipedia for the Duke of Sutherland.

 

Jurassica comes to Dorset

Well the world of dinosaurs will be getting a new attraction by 2020.  Detailed plans have been given and shown on the BBC news, which is where I heard about it (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-30910933).  Apparently the plan is to build a dome over an old quarry near Portland and turn it into a Jurassic Period themed attraction with animatronic dinosaurs and a museum and all sorts.  Apparently the plans were first revealed in the summer last year…but I missed that lol. _80435908_theproject1 I’m rather excited about it.  If you’ve been a regular reader of my ramblings then it will come as no secret that I love dinosaurs.  Seriously you mention dinosaurs and I turn into a 10 year old kid, so the child inside me is thinking “Yay!! Dinosaur Dome!!”  Local councils, universities and chambers of commerce are currently running the necessary traffic, economic and environmental impact studies.  I hope it goes ahead and if it does I guarantee I’ll be at the doors when it opens.  Now I’m aware of it, I’ll keep an eye on it’s progress and update accordingly.  The UK tends to be very good at when it comes to museums and the Jurassic Coast is fantastic place to visit and a very good location for a dinosaur museum.  I’m excited that Sir David Attenborough is it patron.  It’s looking like it’s going to be a good project.  Can’t wait for 2020 now 🙂

Wenlock Edge

The Wenlock Edge is a limestone escarpment that runs about 31km (19 miles) through the countryside of Shropshire.  At its northern point is the village of Much Wenlock and at the south Craven Arms.

Location & Access: Being such a long feature it isn’t that hard to miss on a map of Shropshire, basically look south of Telford and you should find it easily enough.  The road B4371 runs along the top of most of the Edge.  There are several car parks along the Edge as well as many paths to walk, so there are lots o places to visit depending upon your ability ad how long you want to be up there.  For me I like to pull in at a car park just north-east of the village of Presthope.  There is a nice walk along the top of a quarry.

Geology: The Wenlock Edge is made up of limestone and lime-muds from the Silurian Period (about 423-426ma).  The area used to be a reef and fossils are abundant along this walk.

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The fossils you can find there are mostly corals, crinoids and shell fragments.

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Above are some pictures of some of the fossils that can be found; mostly corals and fragments of shell.  It’s one of the best places in the county to go fossil hunting.  Pretty much every rock you pick up will contain something of interest.  Fossil collecting is allowed at the Edge, just try not to do too much damage as you do so and remember to leave something for those who will follow.

Along with fossils you can find places where you can see the results of sedimentation, bedding plains and folds (albeit in miniature).

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Other Stuff: Along with geology the Edge is a good place to enjoy the English countryside.  The area is a composite of mixed woodland and farmers fields full of livestock.

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It’s also a place of a lot of woodland wildlife.  Some of the birds that you’ll see include Blue, Great and Marsh Tits, all sorts of finches, Greater Spotter Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Common Buzzards and I’ve even seen Red Kites on rare occasions.

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Reference: The Geology of Britain; An Introduction by Peter Toghill (2006),  Sedimentary Petrology (3rd Edition) by Maurice E. Tucker (2001), iGeology map from the BGS (2014) and the notice board from the site.

Merry Christmas, here’s some pictures

Well it’s that time of year when the world gets drunk and family members fall out over an undercooked turkey.  As for me I got a new camera and went out for a walk around the local park to try it out.  “Why are there no pictures of the snow?” I hear you ask.  Well here in Telford we missed the worst of it.  It snowed after dark and rained in the night so by the morning it was all gone.  So enjoy some pictures of some birds and trees.  Enjoy!

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A Study in Stegosaurus

It was announced the other day that the Natural History Museum in London has started to do the most detailed study of a Stegosaurus.  Info for this can be found at the BBC news website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-30301895 and the Natural History Museum’s website http://www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/news/2014/dec/come-and-meet-the-worlds-most-complete-stegosaurus133779.html.  It’s worth a look.  The museum has managed to get hold of the most complete Stegosaurus skeleton found and has used 3D scanning technology to study the creature.  So we’ve known about Stegosaurus for about 100 years, what new stuff can we found out?  Well for one thing the biggest mystery involves the dinosaur’s most distinguishing characteristic; the back plates.  What they were used for is still debated; sexual or territorial display, defence or body temperature regulation are the favourite ideas, but the jury is still out on these.  The second mystery with them is the alignment.  Were they in two parallel rows, with each plate next to each other or did they alternate.  There can also be other things that we just don’t expect, so I look forward to when they’ve completed the study and my next trip to London.

Stegosaurus in the Earth Hall

Images from the Natural History Museum and BBC News websites.

Jurassic World – my thoughts about the trailer

 

Given a few of my recent posts it will come as no surprise that I’m a fan of dinosaurs.  In fact it was these wonderful creatures that got me into geology in the first place.  The original Jurassic Park movie was the ‘grown up’ movie that I ever saw and already being into dinosaurs you can imagine my reaction…I loved it.  I’ve read the novel several times (my copy is now somewhat battered) and loved that too.  The sequels I found less entertaining…despite the addition of Spinosaurus I wasn’t too impressed with the third movie.

I’ve been looking forward to a new film for a while now, and I’m liking the look of the trailer.  It would have been nice to see some more practical special effects instead of all CGI as it appears to be.  I’m not sure about the use of a mutant dinosaur although I agree with some of the comments in Screen Junkies Jurassic World Trailer Fight video (see YouTube) that if they are using the mutant as the ‘bad guy’ and having trained dinosaurs working with the humans (like trained zoo animals I suppose) to help, then that could work.

They’ve shown some nice looking creatures in the trailer; Sauropods, Stegosaurs, Ornithomimosaurs and the obligatory Velociraptors.  Problems…we’ve known that Velociraptor and Ornithomimus were both feathered and have know this for several years now (2007 & 2009 respectively).  This actually reminds me of a part in the book where John Hammond & Henry Wu have a conversation about the nature of dinosaurs.  Hammond is telling Wu that they need to make the dinosaurs look more like people’s expectations.  Hammond is saying that the dinosaurs are too energetic & active and not the slow, stupid lumbering beasts that people have perceived them to be.  Wu argues back that he was tasked to clone dinosaurs and that is what he did, if they’re different to the public image then the public need to change their image.  We’ve known that many dinosaurs (including Velociraptor, Ornithomimus and Yutyrannus) had feathers and we’ve known for over a decade in some cases.  So why not put that into the movie?  Because it doesn’t fit the public image of dinosaurs.  My answer to that is we need to change to public image of dinosaurs as the science progresses.

One thing that did make me go “oooo nice” was the addition of the Mosasaur.  It looks good, and its introduction in the trailer was suitably dramatic.

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It looks a little large to me.  The shark looks a lot like a great white (which grown to about 6m in length) and the largest Moasaurs are Hainosaurus and Tylosaurus about 15m in length, meaning that the creature in the movie should be a maximum of 3 times the length of the shark…and it looks a little bigger than that to me…assuming the shark is a great white and assuming it is an adult.  It still looks cool though lol.  One of the details I did like is in the mouth.  Take a look at the upper jaw in the picture above and you’ll see a second row of teeth – the pterygoid teeth, a feature pretty much unique to Mosasaurs and a nice bit of detail added for those of us that know some stuff about these ancient creatures.

Overall I’m looking forward to the movie, but a little cautious in case they make a mess of it (I really hope not).

Deinocheirus – mystery solved

There has been a new announcement from the world of dinosaur palaeontology; after almost a decade of putting the pieces together we can finally reveal the shape of Deinocheirus.  For those not family with this creature, Deinocheirus mirificus was first discovered in 1965 (formally named in 1970 by Halszka Osmolska and Ewa Roniewic).  The original fossil was found in the Nemegt formation (70ma)  in Mongolia and was just a set of forelimbs as shown in the featured image above (taken from Wikipedia).  These arms are a considerable length (2.4m), hence the name Deinocheirus or “terrible hand”.  The rest of the dinosaur was unknown and it has at times been placed with the Dromaeosaurs or Therizinosaurs, before being tentatively group with the Ornithomimosaurs due to similarities in the arms & hands (Weishampel et al.).  This however was not a certainty as there were some differences  in the radius and the ulna, as well as a few other locations (Weishampel et al.).

Due to research done on two new finds from 2006 and 2009 a Korean team led by Yuong-Nam Lee has finially revealed a complete image of the creature.

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(Image form the journal Nature – published 22nd October 2014)

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D. mirificus has been confirmed as an Ornithomimosaur, the largest known one at 11m in length.  It does however include some interesting features;

“[It] has many unique skeletal features unknown in other ornithomimosaurs, indicating that Deinocheirus was a heavily built, non-cursorial animal with an elongate snout, a deep jaw, tall neural spines, a pygostyle, a U-shaped furcula, an expanded pelvis for strong muscle attachments, a relatively short hind limb and broad-tipped pedal unguals.”          – Yuong-Nam Lee et al. (Nature 22/10/14)

So overall not quite what people were expecting, but still in the general area.  As for D. mirificus lifestyle the presence of both fish remains and numerous gastroliths in the stomach region suggest a omnivorous diet in a semi-aquatic environment.  This is similar to other Ornithomimosaurs, with other species (such as Sinornithomimus) having gastroliths and fine-combed filter feeding strainers such as those found in Gallimimus (Weishampel et al.).  To be honest this doesn’t surprise me.  The connection between Deinocheirus and the other Ornithomimosaurs has been long suspected, as has their omnivorous diet.  The only that really surprised me was the hump on its back, the purpose of which is still a bit of a mystery.  Other dinosaurs have similar humps/sails made from elongated neural spines and there is still much debate over the exact nature of the feature.  The popular ideas being that it was used for either sexual/territorial display or for body temperature regulation.

On more thing I would like to add is be careful of the media and how they represent science.  I was first alerted to this announcement via Sky News which titled the article “Duckbilled Dinosaur Looked Like Jar Jar Binks” (Sky News Website & iPhone App 23/10/14).  I have problems with this.  First of all it’s much better looking and certainly more relevant to…well anything than Jar Jar Binks (oh come on we all like to pick on that Star Wars character).  Secondly – and for me most importantly – is that they misidentify it.  By calling it a duckbilled dinosaur they are implying that it is a Hadrosaur, commonly called duckbilled dinosaurs due to their beak being broad, flat and…well shaped like a duck’s bill.  This it most certainly not.  Take a quick look on Wikipedia for something like a Hadrosaurus or Edmontosaurus and you’ll quickly realise the difference.  In the article itself they also say it “is a relative of the ostrich belonging to the dinosaur branch often known as ostrich dinosaurs.”  Well that makes it a completely different Order of animal to the Hadrosaurs, but at least that line is half-correct.  D. mirificus is a member of the Ornithomimosaurs – often called the Bird/Ostrich mimics – with some of its members being called Ornithomimus (Bird Mimic), Struthiomimus (Ostrich Mimic) and Gallimimus (Chicken Mimic), due to their superficial resemblance to birds.  They are however not thought to be the ancestors of birds, more like distant cousins.  The exact connection between birds & dinosaurs is still up for debate but is thought to be closer to Maniraptora like the Troodonts, Dromaeosaurs or Alvarezsaurs rather than the Ornithomimosaurs.  Knowing evidently more about dinosauria systematics than the person who wrote the Sky News article I had to do a little digging as they didn’t even mention which Journal it had been published in.  This took me to the Daily Mail who had a much better write up of D. mirificus and then onto the actual Journal article in Nature.  Moral of the story; check the sources for yourself.

References: Sky News Website article Duckbilled Dinosaur Looked Like Jar Jar Binks – author unknown (accessed 24/10/14), the Dail Mail Website article The dinosaur that looked like a hump-backed ostrich: Enormous creature that roamed Earth 70 million years ago recreated in 3D by Jonathan O’Callaghan (accessed 24/10/14), Resolving the long-standing enigmas of a giant ornithomimosaur Deinocheirus mirificus (Yuong-Nam Lee et al. Nautre 22/10/14), The Dinosauria (David B. Weishampel et al. 2004), Wikipedia article on Deinocheirus (accessed 24/10/14).

Hulme Quarry

For today’s geological site, I’ve gone beyond the boundaries of my native Shropshire to neighbouring Staffordshire.

Location & Access: Hulme Quarry is located to the east of Stoke-on-Trent, about 1km north-east of Longton at 52*59’49” N, 2*06’28” W.  The whole area is a country park (Parkhall Country Park), nature reserve and a designated SSSI.  The site can be reached from either the A520 (Weston Road) or the A5272 (Park Hall Road).  There are plenty of carparks at the site and most of the paths are wide and well maintained.  There are a few inclines, but nothing too steep (depending upon the path).  There are multiple paths so that someone with mobility issues should still be able to enjoy the place.

Geology: The whole quarry is dominated by the Hawksmoor Formation 246-251Ma which puts it at the very early Triassic Period.  The whole quarry is a collection of red sandstone and conglomerate, and is an excellent place to see this formation.  The quarry sides are easily observable and accessible (though be careful of falling rocks).

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The conglomerate and sandstone can be seen on top of each other in bedding layers.  In the sandstone you can see the cross bedding from the movement of the ancient sand dunes.  There are small layers of pebbles in the sandstone suggesting periodic water movement over the sand dunes.  The conglomerates are the result of a river that moves over the area, and was probably ephemeral.  This is evidenced by the presence of regular graded bedding amongst the pebbles, suggesting regular changes in the flow of the water.  The pebbles themselves are made up mostly of well rounded quartz.

iphone pics 09_14 720The red colour of the rock comes from the presence of iron oxides, left behind by evaporating water.  The combination of red colour, cross bedding sand dunes and ephemeral streams shows that this place was once a desert.  This is typical of rocks from the Permian and Triassic that can be found around Britain.  Occasionally you might find a small patch of mudstone.  I remember being shown some when I visited this site at university several years ago, though I couldn’t find it again this time.

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Other Stuff: The whole area is a beautiful place to walk around.  There are numerous paths, plenty of places to walk, pine tree forests and areas of lowland heath & brush.  There’s bird watching for those that are into that sort of thing, plus plenty of places to ride a bike.  On a hot summers day, with the brush and the red sand, it’s easy to imagine the areas desert past.

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Reference: The Geology of Britain; An Introduction by Peter Toghill (2006), Geology (2nd Edition) by Stanley Chernicoff (1999), Sedimentary Petrology (3rd Edition) by Maurice E. Tucker (2001), iGeology map from the BGS (2014) and the notice board from the site.

 

It's a beautiful world