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The New Forest: Geology and Fossils

By James Barnet

26 July 2021

Before visiting a new area, I always like to check out the geology (doesn’t everyone?) and will definitely be taking this book with me when I go to the New Forest. The aim of being a complete guide to the geology and fossils of the area is achieved in an engaging and accessible way. The glossary of geological terms will be especially useful to those beginning their geological education.

The author’s fondness for the New Forest is obvious from his beautiful description of the varied landscape of ancient woodland, purple heath, valley mires and chalk downlands. The geological history of the National Park and surrounds is illustrated with colourful stratigraphic logs (that include key extinction events to provide a wider context) and extremely helpful maps showing the depositional environments of the main rock units. Most of the geology described is not exposed at surface within the Park; however, locations of coastal exposures are indicated on a series of maps accompanied by photographs.

The rocks (and marine fossils) exposed within a few stream banks in the Park are predominantly unlithified Eocene clays. Clear instructions help the intrepid explorer find these precious rock exposures. If you are lucky, the author says careful inspection of the stream-bed gravels below exposures might yield fossils washed out of stream banks. A comprehensive photo gallery of the author’s own collection presents the treasures that can be discovered, including gastropods, bivalves, nummulites (which I learnt are foraminifera visible without a microscope!), corals and shark teeth. If your explorations are in vain, then the book mitigates disappointment by describing locations where fossils are often exposed along the nearby coast, just outside the Park.

An overview of the area’s natural resources includes ancient and modern practises, from the concept of ‘common of turbary’ which gave ‘commoners’ of the New Forest the right to dig peat for heating, to the use of geothermal energy to heat a hospital. An account of oil and gas exploration in the surrounding area includes excellent diagrams of source, reservoir and cap rock petroleum systems. There are not many places in the UK where you can see natural oil seeping out of cliffs and nodding donkeys!

The beautiful images of fossils and dramatic cliffs in this book will inspire the proto-geologist in the same way as discovering sea shells in a forest did to the author as a child. It is a must have for the geologically curious living or holidaying in the New Forest.

Reviewed by Caroline Jones

THE NEW FOREST: GEOLOGY AND FOSSILS by JAMES BARNET, 2021. Published by: The Crowood Press Ltd. 176pp (paperback) ISBN: 9781785008160 List Price £16.99 W: www.crowood.com