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Ancient Cornish forests exposed after storms

Friday, February 21, 2014
9:12 AM

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Particularly impressive are the large trunks of oak, beech and pine in peat beds now exposed near Penzance in Mount’s Bay.

Although the ‘submerged forests’ of Mount’s Bay have been known for centuries they are rarely uncovered to the extent now seen at low tide on the beaches at Wherry Town and Chyandour. Geologists have used radiocarbon dating on timber from the peat beds in Mount’s Bay and it is thought that extensive forests extended across the bay between 4000 and 6000 years ago when hunter gatherers were giving way to early farming communities. Submerged forests are evidence of the changes in the bay as sea level has risen since the end of the last glaciation.

The Mount’s Bay forest bed falls into one of the 117 County Geology Sites which are monitored and managed by the Cornwall Geoconservation Group in conjunction with the Trust and its volunteers. On the north coast forest beds have also been exposed on Portreath beach and in Daymer Bay.

Frank Howie, Cornwall Wildlife Trustee and Chair of the county’s Geoconservation Group, says, Continues…

‘The forest bed at Wherry Town on the west side of Penzance has not been exposed to this extent for 40 years or more. The storms have revealed two to five metre trunks of pine and oak as well as the remains of hazel thickets with well-preserved cob nuts and acorns washed out by streams running across the beach.’

He added that,

‘At Chyandour to the east of Penzance rooted stumps are exposed in situ in peaty soils and massive trunks have been washed out onto the rocky foreshore. These forests were growing four or five thousand years when climate was slightly warmer than today. They were not flooded at the end of the last ice age which happened around 12,000 years ago.’

Dave Fenwick, local wildlife photographer and marine recorder says,

‘The tree stumps and trunks now exposed illustrate merged biodiversity and geodiversity with colonies of recent and sub-fossil wood boring molluscs, some now rare in Cornwall.’

Frank Howie also says,

‘At Daymer Bay, north Cornwall, as well as several rooted tree stumps, Neolithic shell middens and fossil soils containing snails, some now rare or extinct in Cornwall are exposed. This is an important exposure and research is underway on what it tells us about the climate and environment of the recent past in Cornwall.

He added,

‘The storms have washed away parts of this exposure although it is expected that tidal movements will again cover the deposit with sand over the next few months’.

These sites are all very fragile and it is likely that any further storms and trampling by interested onlookers may damage the deposits. It is expected that a number of these ancient forests have been exposed around our coast and it would very useful if people can send photographs of what they see and report locations to Frank Howie (Tel: 01736 331007; Email: fmp-howie@msn.com). Great care is essential when visiting these sites; do not take risks under overhanging cliffs, during bad weather and, as these sites are intertidal, check tide times to avoid being cut off.

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