310-million-year-old ‘fossil forest’ in Sheffield revealed

Peter Kennett and Duncan Hawley with the cast of the fossilised tree stump
Peter Kennett and Duncan Hawley with the cast of the fossilised tree stump

A fossilised forest buried beneath Sheffield for millions of years has been brought to the surface, offering a glimpse into the city's prehistoric past.

It’s hard to believe now, especially with the frost beginning to bite, but Sheffield once boasted a tropical climate resembling that of the Amazon rainforest today, in which towering trees thrived.

A close-up of the tree stump cast

A close-up of the tree stump cast

When workers were digging the foundations for Middlewood Hospital in 1872, they uncovered the remains of an ancient forest – a remarkably well-preserved series of giant tree stumps believed to date back some 310 million years to the Carboniferous era.

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The fragile fossils on the site of what is now the Wadsley Park Village housing estate were covered over again to protect them from the ravages of the weather, and they remain buried beneath open space off Middlewood Drive.

But a cast of the largest stump has now been unveiled above the ‘fossil forest’, along with an information board giving an insight into the importance of the remains, which were preserved in hard sandstone

Peter Kennett and Duncan Hawley with the information board

Peter Kennett and Duncan Hawley with the information board

Sheffield Area Geology Trust, which teamed up with Natural England, Museums Sheffield and the Geological Association to get the new features installed, claims it is hard to overestimate the importance of what has been recognised as a site of special scientific interest.

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Pete York, from the trust, said: “Although there are similar trees preserved in Glasgow, Manchester and Edinburgh the Middlewood site is unique in terms of its age and that the tree stumps are preserved in situ.”

Peter Kennett, the trust’s chairman, told how he hoped showing people how the stumps look would help raise public awareness of the site’s importance.

“Even most people living there probably had no idea what was beneath the ground before now but hopefully this will help them appreciate its significance,” he said.

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The information board describes how what is now Britain has moved about 6000 km north since the forest flourished there, at which time it was located close to the equator.

It details how the trees which grew there then could have reached heights of up to 50 metres and were part of a habitat populated by giant millipedes, insects and amphibians.