THREE hundred million year old fossils which outdate the dinosaurs were ruined in a blitz of arson attacks at a historic steelworks site.
Hundreds of samples from the ancient Brymbo Fossil Forest – which has been touted as a possible world class tourist attraction – were left charred ruins after two deliberate blazes at the derelict Brymbo Steelworks site where they were stored.
The blazes left the fossils, which were due to be part of the main attraction of a new visitor centre at the site, seriously damaged and “barely recognisable”.
The Brymbo Fossil Forest, the only known fossil forest in Wales and believed to be one of only 10 of its type in the world, was uncovered in 2003 during open cast mining for coal in Brymbo.
Its fossils pre-date the dinosaurs by nearly 70 million years and the forests from which they stem were around more than 100 million years before the existence of mammals, 200 years before the existence of apes and 150 million years before birds existed.
Now hundreds of samples have been damaged so badly they will not be able to feature in any tourist exhibit.
Colin Davies, of the Brymbo Heritage Group, who are looking to create a heritage and visitor centre at the site, said: “We are used to vandalism at the site but arson takes it to another level, it’s completely mindless.
“We’re fortunate the main fossils are kept elsewhere, but these things are still 300-million-years old and you can’t get them back.
“It’s upsetting that people take liberties and spoil things for the group.
“It’s also an annoyance, a really frustrating setback, but we won’t be deterred. The feedback we have from the local community is that they want the buildings here to be turned into a heritage centre so we are working to make that happen.
“We will continue working with the community and council, and hope to gain funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to push on with our plans.”
Senior lecturer in History at Glyndwr University, Peter Bolton, said: “The fossil forest is a rare visible reminder of a time pre-dating history and for that reason this attack is an absolute tragedy.”
Brymbo councillor Paul Rogers said the community would not let the incidents spoil plans to preserve the site’s heritage.
He said: “These are the most serious incidents in a long line of anti-social behaviour at the site in recent months, including scrap metal theft, and I cannot understand the mentality behind it.
“The fossils that were removed from the site and stored there are now barely recognisable. There are plans to create a heritage and visitor centre and they were a part of that.
“Luckily the most important fossils aren’t stored there, and it is also very lucky no one was injured, but it’s seriously impacted a large heritage group and is very demoralising for them.
“My message is for everyone to be vigilant and to keep working together to preserve the area’s heritage.
A spokesman for the landowners Brymbo Developments Ltd said: “Mindless vandalism on the site cannot be tolerated.”
A North Wales Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said: “We were called out to two similar incidents at the Brymbo Steelworks, Blast Road over the weekend.
“We were called out on Sunday, May 11, at 1.37pm to the Brymbo Steelworks site on Blast Road where a container had been set on fire. One fire engine from Wrexham attended and a hose was used to extinguish the fire and it was a deliberate ignition.
“The day before at 8.04pm we attended a temporary building in the same area where a quantity of rubbish had been set on fire.”