UK Fossils -

Harwich fossils and fossil collecting (Essex)

Fossil collecting at Harwich

What looks like a flat beach behind a concrete seawall actually yields plenty of shark and fish teeth, plant remains and much more. People have been collecting here for years. However, success at this location is subject to beach conditions.

Follow the A120 into Harwich and then take the B1352 to Dovercourt (to the southeast of Harwich). The collecting area is found just to the south of this part of Harwich and is easily recognised by the two lighthouses. Park along Harbour Crescent and then walk to the lower of the two lighthouses. If you need toilets, these can be found near the taller lighthouse, close to the railway station. The collecting area starts at the smaller lighthouse, to the south of the worn sea groyne.

Geology: The Eocene geology at Harwich is very interesting. South of the shorter of the two lighthouses is the Harwich Stone Band (Eocene ~50 mya), which is well exposed at the upper part of the foreshore directly south of the lighthouse, and further south where it outcrops again along the lowest part of the foreshore. Between the two exposures, there is a fault in which the London Clay (which is from Division A1), has cut through the Harwich Formation.
The Harwich Formation is marked by patches of silty clay with blocks of sandstone and beds of black pebbles. The latter beds are normally only exposed during low spring tides. The same bed contains attractive veins of calcite and also volcanic ash from explosive volcanic eruptions in Scotland and Scandinavia during Eocene times, but tends to yield few fossils.
Fossils come from both the London Clay (Eocene ~50 mya) faulted at the Southern end, and also from the dredging of London Clay deposits from the riverbed. Material can be dumped on the beach or stirred up after dredging the river. This used to be a location that was highly rich in fossils, but since dredging has stopped, the number of fossils has dramatically decreased and the beach has become more silted up.

Fossil collecting: Fossils from Harwich have been noted for about 300 years. Several nautiloids, large turtles and fossil mammals were recorded in 1796. Recent finds include many different types of fish, reptiles (including turtles), crocodiles, bird bones and occasional mammals.
The most common finds are the highly polished sharks’ teeth and ray palate fragments from the London Clay, with whale bones and shell fragments derived from the Red Crag of the Pliocene. Pine cones, (Platycarya richardsoni) have also been found from the London Clay.
To find fossils at Harwich, you need to collect on a low or falling tide. Collecting is best further out from the promenade. In addition, fossils often get trapped around the large areas of shingle. However, sometimes the beach can be covered with sand and so collecting is poor. The best area is the beach around the shorter of the two lighthouses, and you will need to get on your hands and knees to find the fossils.

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Fossils - The most common finds are shark teeth, seeds, fish, reptiles, turtles.
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Equipment: Harwich is a foreshore location, where most fossils are collected by crawling along the beach on your hands and knees. However, remember to take something to put your finds in, such as a small plastic container or specimen bags.

Safety: Common sense when collecting at all locations should be used and prior knowledge of tide times is essential, but, it is virtually impossible to get cut off by the tide. Sometimes, pieces of metal junk can be seen sticking up from the beach, so one should take care, as these can be quite sharp. However, generally, Harwich is ideal for children to collect fossils.

Further information: View public discussions and other people's finds, or add your own reports and photos by going to our Discussion Board. Check out our other guides for more locations in Essex, or visit similar locations: Steeple, Burnham-on-Crouch, Isle of Sheppey, Maylandsea. If you like collecting sharks teeth you could also try Bracklesham Bay, Herne BayBarton-on-Sea or Taddiford Gap which are also Eocene age.

Stone Tumblers

If you are interested in fossil collecting, then you may also be interested in a stone tumbler (Lapidary). You can polish stones and rocks from the beach which will look fantastic polished using a stone tumbler. You can polish rough rock and beach glass whilst collecting fossils, on those days where you come back empty handed. These are all high quality machines to give a professional finish to your samples. They can even be used for amber and fossils.


At most locations, you can find microfossils. You only need a small sample of the sand. You then need to wash it in water and sieve using a test sieve. We also sell petri dishes, to help you store your fossils.We have a wide range of microscopes for sale, you will need a Stereomicroscope for viewing microfossils. The best one we sell is the IMXZ, but a basic microscope will be fine. Once you have found microfossils, you will need to store these microfossils.

Test Sieves

Test Sieves are used when searching for microfossils. All you need is a small amount of sample such as clays, sands and shales, or if you have acid, limestone, oolite or chalk. Our UKGE Store sells Endecotts and Impact Test Sieves, these laboratory sieves are highly accurate and extremely durable. These Test sieves are fantastic for microfossils. Test Sieves come in a variety of sizes, frame material and types, they are certificated to EU Standards.