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Nature Notes - October 2015


Nature Notes

Between about 65 and 130 million years ago, the ridge where Whitemans Green near Cuckfield now exists was part of a huge river delta, as were large parts of Sussex including where Uckfield and Framfield now sit on the sandstone ridges of the High Weald. This delta was very wet, sandy and silty with marshes, swamps and bogs. The rivers brought huge amount of sandy silt from other parts of the huge tectonic plate that makes up what we know as Eurasia. Britain did not exist as an island but was part of a great alluvial plain. Also at that time, most of the animals that roamed this plain were reptiles, great big ones like the Iguanodon, a plant eating dinosaur about 10 metres long.


Then about 20 million years ago another tectonic plate that we now call Africa moved closer and crashed and folded into the land where Spain and Portugal make up the Iberian Peninsular, thus the Mediterranean basin was created, but also the Pyrenees, Alps, Dolomites and – the High Weald of Sussex and Kent which with the Chiltern Hills, make up the outer rim of this vast crumple zone. The alluvium that was the river delta was heaved up and became a mountain of soft rock – sandstone, clay and chalk. If it reached its full potential height it would have been as high as Ben Nevis in Scotland, namely 1,000 metres. In this soft rock remained the bones of many dead dinosaurs, but as the rock was being pushed up, the rain wind and frost was eroding it and washing it away again into the sea. The mountain was reduced to the sandstone ridges, clay plains and chalk downs of the south-east of England.

Following on from a previous Nature Notes, we pick up the life of a young doctor and amateur naturalist who lived in Lewes called Gideon Mantell, who in 1822 was walking in the Quarry at Whitemans Green with his wife Mary (nee Mary Ann Woodhouse) when she found what looked like a huge fossilised tooth which she passed to her husband. It turned out to be the tooth of a terrible lizard (Dinosaur) later called Iguanodon – this was the first evidence in the world that any of these creatures had ever existed. All the knowledge that we now have about dinosaurs was begun by that humble country doctor from Lewes whose son went to school in Uckfield and was a friend of the Streatfeild family who owned The Rocks estate which included Lake Wood and what we now call West Park Local Nature Reserve.

Dr. Martyn Stenning,