CHALK EAST
Valuing Chalk landscape and geodiversity in the East of England
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Special Projects Landscapes, Winter fields at Heydon. Photo © Geo-East
 
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 · Geology · Landscape · Biodiversity · Economy & Culture · Resources

 


Introducing the Chalk


Chalk geodiversity plays an important role in the life of the region. It influences the landscape, wildlife, economic and cultural life. Read on to find out more.
 


Geology

Chalk originated in warm seas of the Cretaceous period between 99 and 65 million years ago. It is a limestone made from the calcareous shells of miniscule planktonic organisms which became deposited on the sea-bed and which later hardened into chalk rock; flints formed in it from silica-rich debris. The Chalk has variations in hardness, clay and flint content which influence the shape of today's landscape, and which reveal a story of climatic change in the remote past. It often includes beautifully preserved marine fossils.

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Microscopic Section of Chalk – Courtesy Project Gutenberg
 

Microscopic chalk fossils (magnified 2000x)
Picture courtesy Project Gutenberg

 
 
   The sub-drift outcrop of the Chalk. Click map for enlargement. Landscape and landforms

The Chalk outcrops in all six counties of the region (see map), and is an important part of the landscape. It forms a ridge of high ground ranging from the northern Chiltern hills, through the East Anglian Heights to the cliffs of the north Norfolk coast; it has smaller outcrops along the valleys of the Yare, Wensum and Gipping, and in south Essex. It gives rise to many interesting landforms, including dry valleys and disappearing streams, and soil types ranging from rendzinas to calcareous loams.

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  The sub-drift outcrop of the Chalk.
Click map for enlargement.
 
 
 

Chalkland biodiversity

The soils of the Chalk gives rise to a distinctive range of habitats, each with its suite of flora and fauna, including

  • chalk grassland
  • chalk rivers
  • chalk heath
  • springs and wetlands
  • beech woodland

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Chalk grassland on the Sundon Hills, Beds. Photo © The Landscape Partnership
  Chalk grassland on the Sundon Hills, Beds.
 
 
Lime burners at work - a pub sign from Offton, Suffolk. Photo © Geo-East Economic and cultural life of the Chalk

Chalk is an important economic and functional resource for the region. It is the region’s major source of drinking water; it is also a historic source of lime and building stone, which has left a legacy of pits and quarries. It has been settled by humans for many thousands of years, leaving a legacy of field monuments such as burial mounds, banked enclosures and linear earthworks like the Devil's Dyke; its flint was widely used for tool-making in prehistoric times. Museum collections of specimens from the Chalk have been built up over the last 150 years, and are an important cultural resource for education and enjoyment. Chalk has been used by artists and craftworkers for making turf-cut figures and other carvings.

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Lime burners at work - a pub sign from Offton, Suffolk
 
 
 
 
Resources

Click here for further Chalk-related resources, including further reading and web links.

 
 
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