Fossils are the preserved remains of animals or plants

Most commonly, only the hard shells or skeletal parts of an animal, or the most durable parts of plants, are preserved as fossils. In some circumstances, the original soft animal or plant tissue may be preserved, but these are very rare indeed.

Trails, tracks, burrows, worm casts and feeding traces of a variety of animals in soft sediments are commonly preserved, and in some environments, the imprints of soft-bodied animals may also be preserved. The term trace fossil is applied to such remains.

The following sites are particularly important

Tipalt Burn [NY 659 661 – NY 687 683]

Includes cephalopod molluscs, echinoderms, bryozoans, corals and brachiopods. The site is scheduled as an SSSI for its palaeontological importance.

Redesdale Ironstone Shale [NY 895 833]

The Redesdale Ironstone Shale is renowned for the rich diversity and fine preservation of its fossils. One band in particular within the deposit contains an exceptionally well-preserved molluscan fauna. Redesdale Ironstone Quarries SSSI.

Brunton Quarry, near Chollerford [NY 929 700]

The long-disused Quarry is also scheduled as an SSSI for its palaeontological importance. The Chaetetes Band, in the lowest 1.5 metres of the limestone, contains superbly preserved reef-like encrusting mats of the sponge Chaetetes depressus, accompanied by colonial corals and a variety of brachiopods and bivalves preserved in life position. It is a superb example of a Carboniferous tropical sea floor community – or complete ecosystem – fossilised in situ.

Greenleighton Quarry SSSI [NZ 034 920]

The Greenleighton Quarry SSSI is of importance for the rich marine shell faunas contained in the Great Limestone and the overlying shales.

Black Pasture Quarry [NY 932 699]

In Black Pasture Quarry sandstones above the Great Limestone locally contain abundant specimens of the brachiopods Schellwienella crenistria. The abandoned sections of the quarry also expose beautifully ripple-marked surfaces of sandstone on which well-preserved worm casts can be seen.

Mootlaw Quarry, near Ryal [NZ 024 750]

At Mootlaw Quarry, near Ryal, the shales that overlie the Great Limestone are notable for a rich and varied fauna of brachiopods, molluscs, gastropods, crinoids and goniatites. The shales have also yielded an almost complete, fully articulated, crinoid: such fossils are almost invariably found in a fragmentary condition.

Fossils in the Park

Although not as rich and immediately obvious as other areas of Britain, the Carboniferous rocks in the area around Northumberland National Park do contain finely preserved examples of many of the principal fossil groups, such as algae, sponges, foraminifera, brachiopods, molluscs, gastropods, ammonoids, goniatites, echinoderms, crinoids, corals, bryozoans, ostracods and plants.

Whereas such fossils may be widely scattered through many of the rocks, a number of localities within the district are notable for concentrations of one or more fossil species.