North East Yorkshire Geology Trust

Dalesman this month features an interview with Mike Windle, of the North East Yorkshire Geology Trust

I spent a fascinating morning with Mike in Hovingham, where he showed me a beautiful collection of fossilised corals, all collected, he said, in fields in the area. They had been cleaned up, and showed the structure of the corals beautifully. He said, “These are proof that this part of Yorkshire was once a coral reef.”

He then produced a fossilised whelk shell – looking like a stone, but recongnisably a whelk. He said they were easy to find on the ground in the area, and described how, over millions of years, the area of the Howardian Hills had alternately been a deeper sea – full of corals – then a shallower sea, filling with sand from a tropical soil. These had then become compressed to produce alternating layers of limestone and sandstone under the ground.

The sandy soil, he said, had lots of iron in it, which gave it a golden colour, with streaks of red.

He added that the tropical corals had grown because, due to movements in the earth’s crust, North Yorkshire at that time had been roughly where North Africa is now.

He adds, “Charles Darwin studied a rock from here called Coral Rag. He worked out from the limited number of species in it that here was at the edge of the ecology for that, because similar rocks from Europe have many more species.”

Geology, said Mike, is about looking for reasons for why things happened. He said, “It’s a great detective trail – and anyone can do it. All you need to do is concentrate on basic logic and common sense.”

He took me for a walk around Slingsby village, showing me fossils in the walls of houses. Then we went to Wath Quarry, where he and the supervisor, Les Fenwick, chatted happily about the different rocks that Les had seen in his 18 years of working the quarry.

Mike made it clear how people have always exploited geology, explaining how Roman roads followed a line of better drained soil across the Vale of Pickering, how water flowed through the rocks and emerged as springs, and how villages were sited to take advantage of the best agricultural land.

He was enthusiastic about going into schools and teaching children about geology – and also about leading walks and talks. He believes that people can enjoy country walks even more, when they understand the forces that created the landscapes they see.

He also had an interesting view of the future. He said: “In future, I think we’ll mine landfill sites for the raw materials – we’ll have the technology. In fact, it’s already happening. They reckon that there’s more gold in landfill, because of old computers, than there is in natural gold mines in this country.”

Mike would like to make it easier for people to get involved in geology. The Trust does rock and fossil roadshows, dino days, school events, and guided walks. He said: “Our motto is ‘protect and share’.”

Mike Windle with a selection of fossils

Mike Windle with a selection of fossils

To find an event, see Mike’s website at – and read the full article in Dalesman Magazine, July 2010 issue, out now.

About Helen Johnson

Freelance writer specialising in Yorkshire's history and heritage.

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