A visit to the Pliocene Forest

Earlier today I travelled up to Sutton in Suffolk to visit ‘the Pliocene Forest’, a project managed by GeoSuffolk. We are exploring options for ecotourism on the farm and with our own Pliocene/Pleistocene heritage, Sutton seemed like an interesting model. We were met by Barry, who runs the site with a team of loyal volunteers.

At Sutton, an area of Coralline Crag (a Pliocene seabed) is exposed and in 1977 Professor Richard West discovered a series of fossil pollen grains which had been blown from neighboring land. These grains were clues as to the kinds of plants that were growing during the period (roughly 5-3 million years ago). GeoSuffolk’s idea was to establish an area of woodland using these plants as inspiration. Over 100 trees have been planted on the site, each sponsored by an individual or family to give some connection to the local community and encourage increased interest.

The trees include Metasequoia glyptostroboides (the Dawn Redwood), Larix kaempferi which is a deciduous larch, and Quercus pontica (Armenian oak). It was fascinating to walk round the small site, discovering more about each species. Some of them looked truly ‘alien’, and yet they had all grown there before (even though there had been a gap of several million years in many cases). Incredible to think that in several hundreds of years time, the giant sequoias will be towering above this otherwise flat Suffolk landscape. Some may say that these are ‘alien’ species that have no basis in our current landscape but I would say, why not? Who says? According to who? Other than one of the grasses (I forget the name but it was a bit like a miscanthus or a bamboo) which grew at an extraordinary rate, I could not see any issues in terms of them being ‘invasive’. In many ways it is a living museum.

Barry gave us a list of genera that would have been present on our own farm at the time, so that we could begin to explore the potential for a similar site on the Naze. Another little project to get stuck into…

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