The Champions Project began in 2009, with local volunteers recruited to preserve and promote carefully chosen geological sites. At the end of each year Champions are asked to send us a report of their activities, and the result reveals a thriving community and a wide range of on-going activities. From conservation and preservation to public and private outreach events, new research, discovery and publication, our Earth Heritage Champions are making a mark!

As a member of the Lickey Hills Geo-Champions it is my pleasure to put together this compilation of our recent activities from the perspectives of Ken Lewis and Alan Richardson. This is the third in a series to showcase the work of the Champions.

Lickey Hills Geo-Champions – raising the profile of geology in the Lickey Hills

by Alan Richardson, Ken Lewis and Julie Schroder

At the Lickey Hills we are lucky to have a large, dedicated Champions group and spectacular geology which invites further exploration, to add new sites to our original two: Barnt Green Road Quarry and Warren Lane Quarry. From Kendal End Quarry at the southern end of the Lickey Hills to Rubery Cutting and Rubery Hill in the north, we are gradually piecing together the geological history of the Lickey Quartzite ridge, and adding to the fund of knowledge which we can promote through guided walks, open days, and more recently a wealth of printed material. We are also fortunate to have superb support and encouragement from the ranger team, who are stretched to breaking point in taking care of the Lickey Hills Country Park along with many other parks and open spaces. All our efforts and successes are thanks to the relationship we’ve built up with them over the years.

Bilberry Hill unconformity: Lickey Quartzite capped by quartzite breccia. Champions led public walk, May 2022

Over the last two years we have undertaken almost 20 sessions of clearance and geo-conservation alternating between quarries and other features in our territory according to need. There have been several guided walks for the general public and for organised groups, with ever more members of our group taking the lead. Below, Ken Lewis presents a round-up of our sites, then Alan Richardson provides some further insights based on his research work and publications over recent years.

A tour round the territory of the Lickey Hills Geo-Champions

by Ken Lewis

Since the origins of the Lickey Hills Geo-Champions in 2010, the vigorous and consistent clearance activities at the Lickey Hills have unearthed (or re-revealed) numerous fine details of structure in the Ordovician Lickey Quartzite. These have inspired the present active team of some 8-10 volunteers of amateur and professional geologists on a quest to further explain the succession of events that have shaped the Lickey Hills Quartzite ridge and its environs as it is today. Importantly, there have been the organised survey field trips for the volunteers which have had the effect of stimulating impromptu questions and debates regarding the observed features as we walked on various occasions over the whole length of the quartzite exposure.

From the southern end at the border with the Silurian limestone, some ten or more sites have proved to be of much interest, beginning with the complex twisted, faulted, brecciated rock at Kendal End Quarry (see map below). Continuing north around Cofton Hill to the well-known recumbent fold at Barnt Green Road Quarry, the bedding planes in the south-eastern corner have been exposed by the Champions and related to each other, and extensive features of clay, breccia and faulting revealed.

Lickey Hills Country Park – Geological sites are marked in blue

The originally conceived ‘boulders’ on Bilberry Hill have now been shown to be bedrock, consisting of Lickey Quartzite capped unconformably by silicified quartzite breccia. Counter-parts to this have been located in other areas of the Lickey Hills. Most helpful here has been the use of a portable pressure washer, which is now being used in most of the conservation work. At Warren Lane Quarry on the western flank of Bilberry Hill, the steeply inclined bedding planes, together with the numerous faults, clay layers and sediments, provide ample scope for both students and experienced sedimentologists.

Lickey Hills Geo-Champions at work at the Rubery Cutting, November 2023. Lickey Quartzite/Rubery Sandstone unconformity.

The poorly understood gorge alongside Rose Hill in Cofton Hackett, divides the Lickey Hills in two. Here the Rose Hill quarries lie in the southern slopes of Rednal Hill, and the conservation work is presently revealing the thrust structures described in the older literature. At the northern end of Rednal Hill there is a large loose boulder on the hillside. This consists of fragments of quartzite cemented together, inviting comparison with the silicified quartzite breccia on Bilberry Hill. Not far from this, at Eachway Lane Quarry on the western flank of Rednal Hill, lies one of only two fossil sites we know of on the Lickeys – trace fossils in the form of worm burrows in what appears to be a unique layer of quartzite, and a proximate white clay layer presently under investigation.

Further north, along Leach Green Lane is a recent ‘discovery’ for the Champions directly adjacent to the roadside. Here the exposed rock face shows an apparent admixture of quartzite and Rubery Sandstone which calls for further study. Finally we come to the Rubery Cutting opposite the flyover on the A38. Here is the well-known unconformity between the Lickey Quartzite and the Silurian Rubery Sandstone, which the Lickey Hills Geo-Champions take pride in maintaining with regular clearance sessions (see photo above).

Geological Secrets of the Lickey Hills Revealed

by Alan Richardson

Infilled fissure in the Lickey Quartzite in Warren Lane Quarry after cleaning

The Lickey Hills continue to reveal the secrets of their history to the Lickey Hills Geo-Champions. Some years ago, Ian Fairchild identified an infilled fissure (‘Neptunian dyke’) in the Lickey Quartzite exposed in Warren Lane Quarry. This led me to suggest that we might find an unconformity at a higher level on Bilberry Hill. The team made a shallow excavation around a small exposure of quartzite breccia at the summit of the ridge, and revealed the expected junction with the underlying Lickey Quartzite. Subsequent cleaning with a pressure washer allowed the full extent of this boundary to be identified. The breccia and uppermost quartzite constitute a silcrete of approximately 1m thickness, which caps Bilberry Hill and Rednal Hill to the north. While no outcrop has yet been found on Cofton Hill to the south, fallen blocks of breccia around the base of the hill give a strong indication of the same lithology at this location.

The author (Alan) at work with the pressure washer at the worm burrows, Eachway Lane Quarry

The abundance of aeolian sand grains mixed with water-worn pebbles in the fissure infill material in Warren Lane are suggestive of a Triassic in Warren Lane Quarry after cleaning origin. Records of early 20th century excavations, to the north of the ridge, record breccias of Lickey Quartzite fragments passing conformably upwards into lower Triassic conglomerates. It follows that the Lickey ridge was exposed at this time. Most recently more infilled fissures have been identified in Kendal End Quarry at the base of Cofton Hill, at the southern extremity of the ridge. This is taken to suggest that the dimensions of the ridge are very close to those that would have been apparent in the Triassic.

Worm burrows in Eachway Lane Quarry

I have long speculated that the Lickey Gorge (aka ‘Rednal Gorge’), which cuts through the ridge and separates Bilberry and Rednal Hills, is not a glacial overflow channel, but a Triassic feature. Now a possible infilled fissure has been located in Rose Hill Quarry. The team will clean, pressure wash and sample the exposure in the hope that the evidence adds credence to this hypothesis.

In 2019 the group identified an important exposure in the Eachway Lane Quarry. A single bedding plane is peppered with an abundance of worm burrows (see photos above, right and below). They appear to be paired, and are likely to be Diplocraterion. The Lickey Quartzite is interpreted as a near-shore strand deposit, so it would have been biologically active.

Annotated close-up of the layers above the worm burrows

However, this bedding plane, and a single Cruziana trace in Warren Lane Quarry constitute the only evidence for this. This is not surprising for a high-energy, well-oxygenated environment: on the contrary one has to look for evidence for the special circumstances that led to the preservation of these trace fossils at this level in the sequence. During a recent clearance session, particular attention was paid to two deeply-eroded layers immediately above fossils. The lower one in contact with the burrowed surface was found to be a soft sand with a clay matrix. Three to four centimetres of competent Lickey Quartzite separated it from the higher layer which consists of a soft pale clay. Samples have been taken with the expectation that they will prove to have had a volcanic origin. A blanket of volcanic ash would account for the lack of bioturbation or mechanical agitation that would have destroyed these traces.

This year saw the completion of the project to get all our sites officially recognised. The EHT and Worcestershire Planning granted the Bilberry Hill Unconformity LGS status, and accepted site updates for Barnt Green Road and Warren Lane Quarries. Our northern sites lie within Birmingham, which operates a different system of site recognition. Proposals for the unconformity on Rednal Hill and the worm burrows in Eachway Lane Quarry resulted in them being incorporated into the existing ecological SINC (Site of Interest for Nature Conservancy) for Rednal Hill, which has now been redesignated as a geological and ecological SINC. It is unfortunate that Birmingham’s system does not allow them to be given the individual status they deserve. All the LGS proposals, site updates and site assessments have now been uploaded to the Champions’ website under the heading: ‘Lickey Hills Geological Sites – Research Documents’ which you can access by clicking here.

Compiled by Julie Schroder, EHT Champions Coordinator