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Cuttie's Hillock Site of Special Scientific Interest is a small site that lies within a forested area known as Quarry Wood. This cache is owned by outdoor learning and adventure charity, Outfit Moray. Visit www.outfitmoray.com for more information on our work locally with vulnerable or disadvantaged young people, to hire outdoor equipment such as canoes or bikes or to book an adventure fun day for up to 8 people!
Cuttie's Hillock Site of Special Scientific Interest is a small site that lies within a forested area known as Quarry Wood, near Elgin in Moray and was acquired by the Forestry Commission in 1949 from Elgin Town Council. Quarry Wood was designated as a Woodland Park (FCS Designation) in 1995 and the wood is now managed through the Quarrelwood Woodland Park Association.
The Cuttie’s Hillock site was designated a SSSI in 1965 and re-designated in 1987 under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. Cuttie's Hillock is of international importance, as it has yielded the youngest Permian reptile fauna in existence. There was also some controversy over the upper Old Red Sandstone fish fossils in rock that was unconformably overlain by Permian reptile bearing rock. The composition of the fauna is unique, as is the reptile known as Geiki and Elginia, the youngest of its kind. The site is also significant from a history of geology aspect, because of its association with some of the 19th Century’s most eminent scientists, including Dr Edwin T Newton who was the first person to realise that the Cuttie's Hillock sandstone, and consequently its fossil fauna, was distinctly older than the other Triassic rocks/ fauna of the Elgin areas.
The late Permian Cuttie’s Hillock Sandstone Formation holds some of the oldest fossil reptile remains in the Permian and Triassic rocks of the Elgin/Lossiemouth area. The rocks exposed in the Cuttie's Hillock site were formed around 250 million years ago at the end of the Permian geological period. At this time Britain was land locked within a giant continent between 15° and 20° north of the equator and therefore had a hot arid climate. The rocks within Cuttie's Hillock represent a desert environment with sediment deposited by flash floods and in windblown sand dunes.
Fossil remains were first found by a quarryman in 1836 and subsequently the area became a focus of much scientific debate. In 1878 it was noted the rock sequence was sufficiently exposed to allow its description and the presence of an 8 foot long reptile track was noted. In 1882 the quarry was reopened with sandstone being worked for building purposes. Between 1882 and 1884 a remarkable fossil find was made at the bottom of a trial pit that prompted further excavation in 1885.
Saltopus: small carnivore of around 60cm long. It had a long tail and hind legs and would run and prey upon other animals, the tail being used for balance in rapid manoeuvring. The Saltopus is Elgin area’s only dinosaur and is Britain’s oldest. The Saltopus fossil is on display at the Natural History Museum in London
Dicynodon: The dicynodonts were herbivorous mammal-like reptiles which had a single pair of canine tusks, or bony projections in the upper jaw instead of teeth. These are the only dicynodonts known from Western Europe. The skulls and skeletons of between eight and thirteen dicynodonts Gordonia duffiana were discovered and show they had had a heavy broad skull, between 10 and 18cm long and had powerful jaw muscles. A single specimen of dicynodonts Geikia elginensis showed this reptile had an unusual short, broad skull (about 10 cm long) with no teeth. The dicynodont Geikia is also unique, while Gordonia compares more closely with South African forms, although this is under consideration following the find of dicynodonts at Clashnach Quarry in Hopeman.
Pareiasaur (Elginia Mirabilis): Two specimens were discovered from the quarry showing this large powerfully-built herbivorous reptile had a broad skull around 20 cm in length which was covered with rough pits and spines of various sizes. It had bony armour-plating along its sides, leaf shaped teeth and was probably an herbivore. Research suggests that Elginia Miriabilis was a more primitive creature than the two dicynodonts and that it represents a relict line which lingered rather later in Scotland than elsewhere in the world.
Procolophoni : A fourth reptile is still unnamed. It is represented by seven vertebrae, two scapulae and a hipbone and is thought to be a "Procolophonid"
No plant fossils have yet been found, but it is thought that the animals lived near to plant-bearing lakes, perhaps migrating to new areas following seasonal climatic changes.
Parking is available in the Quarrelwood Car park and the site is managed by the Forestry Commission who has given permission for this cache. Please do not attempt to collect fossils yourself as you could damage the scientific interest of the site. It is also extremely unlikely that you will find any fossils as any remaining will be buried deep within the sandstone accessible only with renewed quarrying.
Further information regarding Cuttie's Hillock SSSI can be found by contacting the Scottish Natural Heritage on 01343 541551 or by visiting http://www.snh.org.uk/snhi and choosing “Site Links” from the menu on the right hand side.
Further information on the fossils found in this and other SSSIs in the Elgin area can be found at Elgin Museum. Visit www.elginmuseum.org.uk for opening times and prices.
Thank you to Scottish Natural Heritage and Elgin Museum for their support and information. Images are courtesy of Elgin Museum. This cache was donated to us in 2018 by CoxandClan. To learn more about our outdoor learning and adventure work with vulnerable young people in Moray, please visit our website: www.outfitmoray.com
sbyybj gur cngu nyy gur jnl hc hagvy gur sbex jvgu n “qrnq raq”. Orne yrsg naq sbyybj gur srapr yvar naq tb guebhtu gur tnc gb gur evtug. Pnpur vf haqre fgbarf.