Thursday, 7 September 2017

York (PG Dip) BGS Visit to York 24th July 2017

On the 24th of July, an eager and enthusiastic group of students on the University of York’s postgraduate diploma in ‘The Geology of Yorkshire and Northern England’ visited the National Geological Repository (NGR), at the British Geological Survey headquarters in Keyworth, Nottingham with their tutor Dr Annette McGrath. During the postgraduate diploma (PG Dip) programme, and as part of their second year residential week course, students visit the NGR for a full-day workshop every October, in order to examine key rock cores from several sub-surface boreholes of northern England. During the last workshop in 2016, Simon Harris, a professional Conservator at the BGS, kindly offered the students and myself the opportunity to revisit the BGS for a full tour plus the chance to view the fabulous resources at the NGR – and as you can imagine, we all jumped at the prospect! 
But as you read this blog, you may be wondering ‘what exactly is the PG Dip in ‘The Geology of Yorkshire and northern England?’ and why did students on this programme want to visit the BGS? The PG Dip is an exciting and unique part-time course, which was launched by The University of York in 2015, and it is conducted entirely online via distance learning over the period of two years. The programme introduces students to the spectacular regional geology of Yorkshire and northern England and its exceptional diversity of landscapes and classic geological sites. Through their examination and understanding of the region, students explore the main principles of geology and acquire the knowledge and tools required with which to interpret larger-scale Earth processes and structures. Students also assess the role of the area’s importance with respect to current controversies in the Earth sciences, whilst also reflecting upon the region's vital role in the history of Geology.

Figure 1: The Lower and Middle Jurassic
sequence near Saltwick Bay, Whitby,
as visited during the first year residential week course

The programme is aimed at anyone with an interest in geology and appeals to a wide range of geological audiences. Students engage with the course for a number of reasons, be they vocational or in order to gain a strong foundation for additional geological study or progression on to Masters or PhD level. However others engage purely out of personal interest, just for the sheer fun of it, as the programme offers students the opportunity to delve into, research and learn more about areas of their own holistic, personal geological interest. Whatever their reason for taking the course, on completion graduates are well-placed to pursue geological careers within academia or industry, if they so desire, or to utilise their knowledge to appreciate and interpret the rocks over which they walk. The programme begins every September with a residential week course at the University of York, during which time students take part in fieldtrips to classic, and in some cases world-famous geological sites in Yorkshire and then conduct lab-work on campus. An additional residential week course also takes place in October of the second year, as mentioned above, when students are provided with the opportunity to visit yet more fascinating geological sites in Yorkshire, as well as the core workshop at the BGS, as mentioned above. Which neatly leads me back to our visit to the BGS this July….

Figure 2: Enjoying the BGS immersive 3D visualisation facility.
We all arrived at the BGS during the morning of the 24th of July in order to spend some time drooling over and browsing the fantastic resources in the large onsite shop, where a vast selection of geological specimens, books, equipment and maps are on sale. Simon Harris then met us in reception, after we had had our fill of the shop, and he very kindly provided us with a fascinating and comprehensive tour of the BGS and its facilities. The tour began with an introduction to, and demonstration of the superb BGS immersive 3D visualisation facility.

After donning our glasses, we were treated to an interactive 3D flyover of the bedrock geology of northern England, which helped us to easily visualise how geology influences and controls the topography of the region. Simon then provided us with a very interesting and thorough presentation relating to the services that are available to academics and bona-fide researchers for free by the National Geoscience Data Centre (NGDC). This also included an onscreen demonstration from Simon of how the students could access the NGDC records online, which constitutes an enormous amount of crucial information and resources. From the fossil collections of Palaeosaurus and the GB3D Type Fossils database, to onshore borehole scans, the Geology of Britain Viewer, the NERC Open Research Archive and the iGeology App (to name just a few!), the NGDC offers a wealth of indispensable online information that underpins and is truly invaluable to an online distance learning programme like the PG Dip at The University of York. 

But that wasn’t all. We then visited the well-stocked BGS reference library en route to the NGR, which holds a vast collection of contemporary geological texts, maps, journals, technical reports and archival material, plus a range of fascinating historical tomes and seminal texts. Simon then kindly escorted us to the NGR itself, where we examined a wonderful variety of carefully selected geological specimens that he had located and displayed for us from northern England. Students were encouraged to search the online database in advance of the visit, so they could request to view specific specimens of particular interest on the day. Needless to say, we didn’t need much encouragement and grasped this fantastic offer with both hands, sending poor Simon a list as long as his arm! This provided both the students and myself with the rare opportunity to view and handle type fossils and key rock and mineral specimens from northern England, which was an invaluable occasion for students taking part in an online distance-learning course. We voraciously examined the samples on display, which included beautiful mineral specimens from the Pennine Orefield, an enigmatic trace fossil within ash deposits of the Borrowdale Volcanic Group, and a selection of elusive trilobite and graptoloid specimens from the Skiddaw Group of the northern Lake District – to name but a few.

Figure 3: PG Dip students in the NGR core store.
We then moved on to see the immense NGR core stores, where borehole cores, cuttings and samples from both the UK landmass and offshore continental shelf are in storage. Whilst there, we were treated to a demonstration of the amazing electronic sliding racks by Scott Renshaw, a truly fascinating and innovative way to move huge amounts of core material around! Next came a tour of the NGR records collection itself, where we admired the vast palaeontological collection, all carefully and accurately catalogued and usefully stored according to geological time period, plus a wealth of thin sections. Simon also impressed us with his ability to locate specimens when he accurately and deftly tracked down a sample of Cornish ‘luxullianite’, a beautiful and rare type of granite, for one especially interested student that had just returned from a trip to Cornwall.

Figure 4: A beautiful specimen of ‘luxullianite’ a rare Cornish granite.
At the end of a most informative day, the students enjoyed investigating the onsite BGS ‘Geological Walk’ where they cemented their knowledge of the regional geology of Britain further, by walking through three billion years of geological time, from the Precambrian rocks of the Scottish Highlands to more recent Quaternary glacial deposits. I think I can safely speak for everyone on the course when I say that a fantastic day was had by all, that everyone appreciated this fascinating and unique opportunity to view world-class resources in the flesh, and I for one can’t wait to return to the BGS again soon, for the second year residential week core workshop this October!

If you are interested to know more about the PG Dip in ‘The Geology of Yorkshire and northern England’ at the University of York, please visit the website: or email or call 01904 328482 for further details.
Blog by Annette McGrath

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Frank Ince - Charnwood Rocks

Charnwood Rocks: Our Geological Heritage

In collaboration with Charnwood Museum (Victoria Park, Loughborough), the Central Branch of the Russell Society organised an exhibition that was open to the public during April and May 2017 (see photo).

The exhibition coincided with the 60th anniversary of the first scientific discovery of a Precambrian fossil in Charnwood Forest: in April 1957 by a Leicester schoolboy (Roger Mason). The fossil was subsequently named Charnia masoni. This discovery was an important milestone in the development of Precambrian geology in the UK and had a major impact on the progress of Precambrian geology and palaeontology worldwide. The exhibition brought together a variety of exhibits and information panels that put the fossils that occur in the Charnwood area into the context of the local geology. The exhibition also highlighted the rich mineralogical diversity of this part of Leicestershire (the combined area covered by Charnwood Borough Council and the proposed Charnwood Forest Regional Park).

‘Charnwood Rocks: Our Geological Heritage’: an exhibition of fossils, rocks and minerals at Charnwood Museum in the Changing Room Gallery (the building now occupied by the museum was previously the town’s swimming baths).


Seven cases contained a variety of fossils (three cases), rocks (one case) and minerals (three cases):
• Plaster replicas of Late Precambrian fossils that showed the diversity of the organisms that were alive about 560 million years ago. These casts were on loan from the BGS, Keyworth.
• A variety of fossils and trace fossils from the Late Precambrian, Cambrian, Carboniferous, Triassic, Jurassic and Quaternary periods. These specimens were on loan from various collections: New Walk Museum, Leicester; Geology Department, Leicester University; Dennis Gamble, Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society; BGS, Keyworth.
• A selection of specimens that showcased the remarkable array of minerals and rocks occur in the Charnwood area. These specimens were on loan from the collections of Neil Hubbard, John Jones and Frank Ince.
Information Panels
Ten professionally-printed information panels were produced and they provided details of the following topics:
• An introductory panel describing the scope of the exhibition.
• A panel containing a geological map and a brief description of the diverse geology of the Charnwood area.
• Six panels containing more information about the variety of rocks, fossils and minerals that occur in the Charnwood area.
• A panel containing a summary of the quarrying and mining industries; their locations were shown on the geological map of the Charnwood area.
• A panel describing the history and activities of the Russell Society; together with acknowledgements to the people and organisations who had contributed to the exhibition.

The printing of these panels was made possible by a project grant from Russell Society funds.
The staff at Charnwood Museum indicated that the exhibition had been very popular, with about 3000 members of the public visiting the gallery. During the period of the exhibition a few ‘crafty days’ for children were organised by Margaret (Ince) in the museum’s Education Room. John Jones accompanied members of a local U3A group during their visit to the exhibition. Members of the East Midland Geological Society included the exhibition in their programme of summer field trips; during their afternoon visit, I gave them a talk that covered the background to the exhibition and various aspects of the geology, mineralogy, etc. An evening talk was incorporated into the spring programme of the Friends of Charnwood Museum; in this presentation I included a more general description of the geology, rocks, fossils and minerals of the Charnwood area.
Frank Ince,
Chairman, Russell Society Central Branch.


The exhibition was organised to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the first scientific discovery of a Precambrian fossil in Charnwood Forest; consequently, it was important that our displays included a replica of the original fossil and examples of the subsequently-recognised diversity of the Charnian biotia. Whilst two notable Charnian fossils were made availably by the Geology Department at Leicester University, the plaster casts of five different fossils on loan from the BGS Collections were an important component of the exhibition. One of the information panels was dedicated to the discovery and description of the Precambrian fossils that occur in the Charnwood area and put them into the context of the local geology.
The display that included Carboniferous fossils contained an excellent example of a Coal Measures fossil on loan from the BGS Collections.

Molly Kirven Work Experience at the BGS

My name is Molly Kirven and I have just finished my first year studying Geology at University of Derby. I undertook one month of work experience at BGS and was able to explore different departments throughout the organisation.

At the beginning of the month after having a tour of the site, I compiled spatial datasets of paleontological data on varying chalk pits throughout the UK using ArcGIS and Excel to do so. This was followed by curating palaeontology collections as well as scanning and 3D printing a fossil from the BGS museum.

I then observed Sherwood Sandstone boreholes producing a core log. Throughout my time at BGS I also attended lunchtime lectures and met many members of staff who took the time to give me extra work, discuss their geological careers and show me aspects of BGS I was unaware of.

Overall, my experience was incredible and I truly loved every second of it. The staff were very welcoming and personable and made my experience as amazing as it could be which is why I hope to be returning in the next year to complete more work experience. 
Thank you for everything

Molly’s work compiling Chalk stratigraphy information into a spatial database builds on current BGS work that underpins a new physical property model of the Chalk Group, as well as providing pathways to detailed BGS site-specific report data that is currently ‘hidden’ in our archives.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Environment Agency Staff Open Day

By having samples of the geology on display the Environment Agency hope to provide a learning opportunity for staff who don’t work in the area of geoscience to better understand the impact geology has on our area.

The samples we borrow from the BGS will help those attending the engagement day to visualise the geology of the East Midlands and to provide a geological and geographical context to the industries we regulate and the impact that geology has on groundwater vulnerability.”

Here are some EA staff using the rock samples to understand more about oil and gas work at our engagement day of 5th July 2017.

Here the folks are sniffing an oil rich sandstone which smells strongly of oil  to better understand how oil is stored in rock and how we can understand geology and the nature of different rock types by handling and interacting with rock samples.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Ice Age Ilford

Ice Age Ilford is a temporary exhibition currently running at Redbridge Museum in east London, featuring loans from the British Geological Survey (BGS). Redbridge Museum Manager, Gerard Greene, talks about the partnership between the Museum and the BGS:
Over 200,000 years ago, Ilford was home to mammoths, elephants, rhinoceros, giant deer, wild cattle and even lions. Hundreds of their fossilised bones were unearthed in Ilford 150 years ago, making it one of the most important Pleistocene sites in the UK. Many of the fossils are now in the collections of the BGS and in this special exhibition, the BGS worked with Redbridge Museum to enable some of these fossils to return home for a brief visit.
I found the staff at the BGS were incredibly helpful. We visited the stores and were overwhelmed at the richness of the collections but also at how much the BGS were enthused by our project. They understood immediately what we wanted to do and made the loans process very simple for us, particularly as we are a small museum. After discussions, the BGS team made a selection of loans and then visited the Museum. They had taken life-sized images of the bones which made the display preparation so much easier for us and was great to have. Even more amazing was a 3D scan of a mammoth tooth which they printed out for us – this was quite unexpected and very high-tech!
The fossils formed the centrepiece of the exhibition which was designed by Redbridge Museum. The displays explain what the Ice Age was, what creatures lived in Ilford during that time, why the area has preserved so many fossils and showed how workmen digging in brickfields during the mid-nineteenth century started to uncover them. In this way, the displays not only show life 200,000 years ago but what Ilford was like before being swallowed up as a suburb of London.
We also worked with a local community group, the East Ilford Betterment Partnership, and the Natural History Museum, London, to display a cast of the skull of the ‘Ilford mammoth’, one of the most complete examples ever found in the UK.
The response to the exhibition has been really positive. Visitors are delighted and surprised to find out how important Ilford is in the scientific world and I think this helps to boost civic pride, one of the key local political agendas. So far, the exhibition has had over 3000 visits with February half-term’s family mammoth trail resulting in the most visitors the Museum has ever had for that time of the year. It has also been a hit with local schools and the Museum has taught the topic to over 1000 pupils so far in newly designed education sessions which will become a core part of our programme after the exhibition finishes. Over the next few years we hope to comprehensively redevelop the main Museum and the topic of ‘Ice Age Ilford’ will be a key part of this and we look forward to continuing our partnership with the BGS.
Ice Age Ilford runs until 4 June 2016
Redbridge Museum, Central Library, Clements Road, Ilford, Essex IG1 1EA



Wednesday, 30 March 2016

ETHELDRED BENETT, the first female geologist

ETHELDRED BENETT, the first female geologist

To mark International Women’s Day, 8 March 2016, the Geological Society of London is holding a special exhibition showcasing a few of the pioneering activities of Etheldred Benett (1775-1845), who is recognised as the first female geologist. 

Figure 1 Silhouette of Etheldred Benett, [c.1837].
The exhibition, running until 31 May 2016, displays a selection of material sent to the Society by Benett between 1813-1842, including a number of her fossils which have been kindly curated and lent by the National Geological Repository, BGS.

Etheldred Benett was born on 22 July 1775 at Pyt House, Tisbury, Wiltshire, the eldest daughter of the local squire Thomas Benett.  Benett and her sister Anna Maria were encouraged to pursue the study of natural history by their brother-in-law, the botanist Aylmer Bourke Lambert (1761–1842).

Whilst her sister concentrated on botany, Benett took up the newly fashionable study of fossils.  Unlike her near contemporary, the working class Mary Anning (1799-1847), Benett was a woman of independent wealth (she never married) who pursued the acquisition and study of fossils for her own interest. 

Collecting locations
Most of her collection comprised Jurassic and Cretaceous specimens from her home county of Wiltshire but she also collected fossils from farther afield, notably during her holidays to the Dorset Coast.  From at least 1809, people were recorded as visiting ‘Miss Benett’s collection’, and by 1810 she was engaging in correspondence with and sending material to other geologists and museums, including the Geological Society.  The first recorded donation from her was in February 1813 when we received some ‘Siliceous petrifactions from Tisbury, Wiltshire’.

Figure 2 Fossils from Wiltshire.
Figure 3 Fossils from Chicksgrove Quarry, Tisbury, Wiltshire.
Figure 4 Fossils from Weymouth, Dorset.
Benett’s particular interest was the collection and study of fossil “Alcyonia” (sponges) which, according to her only publication ‘A Catalogue of Organic Remains of the County of Wiltshire’ (1831), Warminster apparently had in abundance, particularly to the west of the town.

Benett had hopes that she could encourage the male geological community to take an interest in her fossil sponges.  However after patiently waiting a number of years and at least one of the three individuals she had in mind inconveniently dying, she took on the task herself.  The genus Polypothecia had been used in a publication by J S Miller in 1822, but Benett was the first to use the name in a binomial combination . 

Benett’s lost collection
Benett’s scientific endeavours may pre-date the more famous Mary Anning by at least a decade, but she is lesser known due to the nature and fate of her famous collection.

Figure 5 Fossil sponges Polypothecia quadriloba, from Warminster, Wiltshire.
Anning’s large and spectacular Jurassic reptiles can still be seen in the public museums around the country, but on Benett’s death on 11 January 1845, her collection was put up for auction and the majority of it was purchased by

Thomas Bellerby Wilson (1807-1865).  Wilson, an English expatriate living in Newark, Delaware, USA, spirited Benett’s collection away to America where he donated it to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1848.  By the end of the 19th Century, her collection of modestly sized, handling specimens of English provincial strata was virtually forgotten.  It would not be until the late 1980s  that her collection began to be identified and Benett’s scientific reputation established once again.

Many thanks to Mike Howe & Louise Neep of the National Geological Repository (British Geological Survey), for arranging the loan of the specimens.

Guest blog by Caroline Lam, Archivist at the Geological Society, London

Figure 1 Silhouette of Etheldred Benett, [c.1837].  One of only three known likenesses of Benett, made during a trip to Bath.

Figure 2 Fossils from Wiltshire.  In the foreground are three echini from Calne [Cidaris crenularis].  The printed location labels are Benett’s.

Figure 3 Fossils from Chicksgrove Quarry, Tisbury, Wiltshire, which accompanied two measured sections of the quarry which Benett commissioned and sent to the Society in 1815 & 1816.

Figure 4 Fossils from Weymouth, Dorset.  Probably collected by Benett whilst holidaying in the area.  

Figure 5 Fossil sponges Polypothecia quadriloba, from Warminster, Wiltshire.  The genus labels are Benett’s, as is the handwriting indicating the species.  The small number 20812, is the Society’s original accession label, from which we can tell that the specimen was received in April 1824.  The tablet onto which the fossils were glued is from the Society’s old Museum.

The National Geological Repository; Meet the Team

The National Geological Repository: Meet the team

The National Geological Repository Team at Keyworth
The National Geological Repository (NGR), part of the British Geological Survey, holds geological information, data and samples on behalf of the UK. Its origins go back to the beginnings of the Geological Survey in 1835, and it also includes donated material from the 18th Century onwards. Although its roots go back a long way and it contains a great deal of material of historical importance, it is at the forefront of modern good practice, digitisation and web delivery. Systems such as SESAR (the International Sample Numbering System) are highlighting the requirement for robust item numbering systems; it is reassuring to know that the NGR registration system has functioned consistently since its introduction 167 years ago.

The National Geological Repository Team in Edinburgh

The NGR manages the records, geological samples and library held by the BGS. Data born digitally is managed by the National Geoscience Data Centre (NGDC), another BGS facility, but the NGR is responsible for the digital surrogates of analogue items. The NGR is run by staff based in the BGS office in Keyworth, Nottingham and the office in Edinburgh.

A type fossil in the BGS collections – also available as a 3d digital model

The geological samples range from type fossil specimens to panned stream sediment geochemistry samples, from petrological thin sections to building stone samples, from hydrocarbon well core samples to UKCS sediment vibrocores, and from asbestos minerals to microfossils. Most of the samples are indexed in one of several online databases, and shown in GeoIndex, our online GIS system.

GeoIndex – our online GIS (Geographical Information System)

Records include our geological maps, field slips and field notebooks, as well as detailed borehole logs, photographs and reports. The library contains a full set of published maps and reports, as well as a broad range of modern and historical books. Our book catalogue is online and our books are available for inspection in Keyworth and in Edinburgh.

Example of a current BGS 1:50k online geological map
The National Geological Repository is consulted online and at our offices by a large range of users, including commercial organisations such as oil companies, mining companies and geotechnical companies, and by academics ranging from  undergraduates to professors and from the UK and overseas. Any member of the public with a bona fide enquiry is most welcome too. Most non-commercial enquiries are free.

The commercial use of the NGR is particularly important to the UK economy. Hydrocarbon operators can assess borehole samples related to their areas of interest, thereby reducing their investment risks; mining companies can do likewise. Every year an estimated 2.5 million borehole logs are downloaded, mostly by geotechnical companies, enabling them plan their field work far more cost effectively. The resources of the NGR help to underpin much of the exploration for natural resources within the UK, as well as the geotechnical aspects of the construction industry. Its data and resources are also widely used in areas such as insurance, town planning and countryside conservation and tourism. In 2001, an independent study suggested that BGS contributed to sectors responsible for 5 – 8% of GVP (similar to GDP); much of this was reliant on the NGR.

Laser scanning of fossils to produce 3d digital models
In future blogs we intend to cover many of these areas in greater detail. We intend to show you how you can access the data and information simply and in a way that’s most helpful to you. We will flag up the importance of many of the datasets to science, industry and the UK, and document their impact. We are particularly interested to hear from users of NGR data, information and samples. Could you write a guest blog, illustrating how a particular dataset has been helpful to you? In these days of increasing competition for declining resources, we need to demonstrate the impact the NGR is having if it is to continue to receive the level of funding required to provide you with the information and samples you need. The ball is in your court.......National Geological Repository

Blog by Mike Howe