PhD Opportunity!

We have been successful in a joint application with Bangor university for KESS2 funding for a PhD placement! If you or anyone you know is looking to apply for a PhD programme in earth-science please let us know!

The Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics of higher delta-plain carboniferous swamps- PhD Scholarship

The Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics of higher delta-plain carboniferous swamps

School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University

Project ID: BUK2E026

Annual Stipend: £14,483

Application Deadline: 20th December 2019

This a unique opportunity to conduct evolutionary and paleoecological research on one of the UK’s most well-preserved fossil forests at Brymbo, Wrexham. Studying a diverse array of micro- and macrofossils at the site will allow us to investigate ecological and evolutionary change in a carboniferous swamp over 40,000 years of geologic history. The successful applicant will develop a thesis investigating how the ecological and biological evolution of higher delta-plain carboniferous swamps differ from other contemporaneous and current analogous environments and what are the implications for global environmental patterns during the late carboniferous? While the evolution of lower-delta and alluvial coal-swamps are well studied, higher-delta ecosystems of similar ages are less well preserved and studied. The flora, fauna and sediments preserved within the Brymbo Fossil Forest present an excellent opportunity for us to expand our knowledge of local and global ecosystem dynamics during this important period in the evolution of the planetary biosphere. Understanding how organisms respond to local and global shifts in environmental conditions, both gradual and rapid, will help us understand how the modern biosphere may react to the contemporary, anthropogenically-induced climate crisis. The combination of types of preservation at the site captures both gradual changes in community composition over tens of thousands of years (coal seams and associated strata) and exceptional preservation of a community at a single point in time. Furthermore, preservation of coalified bark on lycopod trunks and exceptional preservation of tissues allows us to address fundamental questions about the types of photosynthetic pathways exploited by extinct lycopods – a controversial topic with significant implications for our understanding of coal sequestration. The successful applicant will acquire skills in contemporary analytical techniques, sedimentology, palynology, palaeobotany, palaeoecology and palaeobiology as well as science communication, fieldwork, project management and integrative techniques.

The project will be supervised by Dr Alex Papadopulos (Bangor University;; evolution, speciation and adaptation in plants), Dr Tim Astrop (Brymbo Heritage Trust; palaeobiology & evolution) and Prof. Si Creer (Bangor University; Pollen/molecular ecology). The student will be hosted in the vibrant Molecular Ecology and Fisheries Genetics Laboratory in Bangor ( and will spend substantial portions of their time working with Dr Astrop’s team on site with the unique and exciting Brymbo Fossil Forest Project (

Expected start date is 20th January 2020.

To apply please send a CV and covering letter to Dr Alex Papadopulos  (, cc to Penny Dowdney (

KESS 2 East is a pan-Wales higher level skills initiative led by Bangor University on behalf of the HE sector in Wales. It is part funded by the Welsh Government’s European Social Fund (ESF) convergence programme for East Wales.

Due to ESF funding, eligibility restrictions apply to this scholarship. To be eligible, the successful candidate will need to be resident in East Wales on University registration, and must have the right to work in the region on qualification.


Update! (and other bits…)

Hello all, sorry for the radio silence, lots going on! I’m in Manchester for the geologists association meeting 2019. I gave a well recieved talk about the fossil forest and it’s progress, the volunteer team and our collaborations.

Literally talking about video games at a geology conference. Hyper-nerd

Things are chugging along on site, we’ve just finished clearing the footprint of the incoming phase one building (when i say ‘we’ I mean i did a bit and the volunteer BFF team worked their respective bottoms off). The aim here was to clear the area back to the rock face as it would have been left 10 years ago at the end of the initial exploratory excavations, it is surprising how much soil and rubble had accumulated in that time! Here’s some pics of how it is now…

Odin, keeper of the forest, diligently protecting his charge

in the picture above you can see the exposed sandstone bed with a dipped channel (that Odin is sitting in) we currently interpret this as an actual channel feature, likely being formed by one of the slow-moving braided river. to the right of this feature are over 100 in-situ calamites horsetails! while along the edge of the bank are compressed calalmites, occasional lycopod stems and associated debris (think flotsam accumulating on a slow moving river-edge), while the beds in the dip of the bank seem rather barren. Bear in mind we are clearing, excavation wont begin proper until the phase one build is complete! we are mega excited by what we’ve uncovered so far and cant wait to see the build go up and get stuck in!

Tim, George and Tom clearing the site

Stay tuned for updates, hopefully big news in the near future!

New Paper: The distribution of plant fossils and their palaeoecology in Duckmantian (Bashkirian, Lower Pennsylvanian) strata at Brymbo, North Wales, UK

Hot off the press! A new publication by Barry Thomas (Palaeobotanist and BHT Trustee), Peter Appleton (BFF friend and advocate) and others about the Palaeobotanical diversity and palaeoecology of the Brymbo Fossil Forest. It’s open access so you can get a copy for free!

In this paper is information about the flora found within the strata of the Brymbo fossil forest site, how it changes in response to environmental fluctuations over time and the first report of fossil lycopod spores from the site! This piece of literature will undoubtedly be of great help to us working on the site in identifying the species we find during the upcoming excavation and their ecological context.

Posthumous Palaeoconservation

Weird title right? It’ll make sense in a minute.

Those of you that have visited the site in the past will know that the amount and size of the fossil specimens produced during initial excavations back in 2008-9 far exceeded the storage capacity available to the Brymbo Heritage Trust. This led to many large lycopod stumps taking up residence on the floor of the Machine Shop (a large early 20th century building in the Ironworks dedicated to machine maintenance and repair). over the past 11 years, the absence of a dedicated custodian and the need for other activities to take place on site meant these specimens where moved and unfortunately, some were left exposed to the elements.

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The huge lycopod stump uncovered in 2009 now fondly referred to as ‘Stumpy’

As you can see, the lycopod stump above is massive, trying to store this thing securely for 10 years was difficult. Unfortunately, at some point beteween 2009-2017 this humungous fossil was moved outside. the resulting weathering has all but destroyed the bottom portion

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The bottom portion of ‘Stumpy’ in June 2019

Unfortunately, this part of the fossil was now beyond repair. In order to save what information was left in this specimen it was decided that two things needed to happen. Firstly, we needed to make a digital replica of the fossil as it was so that it could be digitally ‘repaired’ and reproduced at a later date and secondly, this unfortunate circumstance presented and interesting opportunity: similar stumps found at the Joggins Cliff site were found to contain the remains of sheltering animals! (Falcon-Lang & Calder 2004). Luckily, our partnership with Wrexham Glyndŵr University allowed us the opportunity to also work with FARO, manufacturers of some of the worlds leading precision measurement systems. In early June of 2019 we were able to secure a day using the FaroArm, a precision 3D measurement system to digitally scan the remaining bottom portion of Stumpy!

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Producing the 3D image of Stumpy using the FaroArm

The lovely chaps at FARO supplied us with the resulting scan which we hope to edit to represent the fossil as it was when found. This will allow us to produce an accurate replica to re-install where it was originally found once the phase-one fossil forest building is complete.

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Low-res render of the (huge) file produced by the FaroArm scan

Now we have this scan the remains of stumpy are digitally immortalised! This allowed us to practice some field skills and ‘excavate’ the remains. The activity itself will be covered in a future update but it was fun and we found some interesting things, so stay tuned!…

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Volunteers Iestyn & Tim working on the remains of Stumpy

Brymbo Fossils Centre Stage in New Cardiff Exhibition

The National Museum Cardiff will be opening their new year-long exhibit ‘The Fossil Swamp’ on May 18th and will be including lots of information and fossils from the Brymbo Fossil Forest.

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I’ll be heading down on the opening day with some volunteers to harass talk to the public about the BFF project and see some of the specimens held by Cardiff for the first time, the ‘Big Stig’ will be on display for the first time in a few years and i’m really looking forward to see it! Check out the NMC website for all the info

Fossils AND Video-games??!?!

I did it. I finally married two of my major passions in life!

Brymbo Fossil Forest is excited to announce we’ve teamed up with the wonderful people over at the Fossils and Archaeology Revival mod (@FossilsRevival )! Like Minecraft? Like digging up artefacts and fossils? Check it out! We’re helping the team with the scientific fidelity of the new carboniferous-era additions coming in the next update, so you’ll be able to have a go at imagining the fossil forest for yourself soon at home and in our upcoming visitor attraction / education centre!

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Brymbo Fossil Forest Palaeontologist Announced as 2019 Churchill Fellow

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Our Palaeontologist, Dr Tim Astrop, is the proud recipient of a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship! He will be travelling to Joggins Fossil Cliff Institute, Nova Scotia & the Royal Tyrell Museum, Alberta later this year to learn how to better communicate palaeontology, engage the public with our project, develop citizen science programmes and realise the potential of the fossil forest! We are also excited to have surveyors on site finalising the placement of the phase one fossil forest building which will be arriving later this spring