The county of Warwickshire boasts more than 20 geological Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – selected for their geological features that demonstrate important aspects of the UK’s diverse geological heritage. Nationally, these sites are identified and administered by Natural England, the government’s advisory body for the natural environment.
The Coten End SSSI
One of these – the Coten End SSSI, is hidden away in urban Warwick, close to the Emscote Road and the railway, about a kilometre from the town centre. It is a former quarry, which worked the local sandstone as a source of building stone. We know that the sandstone formed as sand and alluvium, in a complex of sluggish rivers and intervening floodplains, during the Triassic Period roughly 245 million years ago. Fossil bones were frequently encountered by the quarrymen, providing direct evidence for the animals that lived in these ancient environments. These included the peculiar, parrot-beaked rhynchosaurs, as well as giant, salamander-like amphibians known as Cyclotosaurus.
The fossils are of international significance, demonstrating remarkable similarities and dissimilarities with contemporaneous fossil assemblages around the world. This is why the Coten End site was selected as a geological SSSI.
Today, the quarry faces remain, though the potential for new fossil discoveries is negligible, now that quarrying has stopped. Fortunately, the Warwickshire Museum cares for an important collection of Coten End fossils, which continue to attract the attention of researchers from all over the world. A number of the local fossils can be seen in the displays at the Market Hall Museum, together with a pictorial reconstruction of ancient Triassic Warwick.