Mammoth concern over fossil hunters hacking into cliffs at West Runton

Dr David M Waterhouse, Senior Curator of Natural History’ at Norfolk Museums Service.

Dr David M Waterhouse, Senior Curator of Natural History’ at Norfolk Museums Service. - Credit: Archant

Fears have been voiced that clues to north Norfolk's past could be consigned to history – by overzealous fossil hunters digging for mammoths.

Dr David Waterhouse, senior curator of natural history at Norfolk Museums Service, issued the warning following reports of a rise in collectors spotted 'hacking into the clifftops' near West Runton with spades.

He pointed out digging into the cliffs was dangerous, would speed up erosion, and could mean any secrets to how life on earth evolved could be washed away.

The palaeontologist – who curates the West Runton Mammoth, the oldest and largest mammoth ever found in the UK – urged fossil hunters to stick to the beach and stressed all finds should be registered with the local museums service.

Dr Waterhouse, who is currently leading on the Cromer Forest-bed Fossil Project, said: 'Norfolk is the best place in the country and probably Europe to find mammoth remains because they went through about six sets of teeth in their lifetime, so there is a lot more teeth than there were mammoths.'

But he added: 'Something that I think needs highlighting is poor and even dangerous fossil collecting by people hacking into the cliffs at places like West Runton.

'Ethical collecting is high on my agenda, and also recording fossil finds as part of the Cromer Forest-bed Fossil Project, so that important scientific information isn't lost forever.'

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The Cromer Forest-bed is world-renowned for the thousands of fossils mammals such as mammoth, rhino and hippo that have been discovered over the last 250 years. The complex deposits date from 500,000 to over two million years ago.

Dr Waterhouse said: 'If people are hacking into the cliffs with spades that is dangerous for them and other people using the beach. There seems to be a few more reports of it happening.'

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