COAL may have been mined in Brymbo as far back as the Middle Ages but dig a bit deeper and the real age of this ancient landscape goes back even further. Much further.

Discovered in 2003 during open cast mining for coal on the former steelworks site, the remains of trees discovered in what is now known as the Brymbo Fossil Forest, are about 300 million years old; a period of time so huge it is difficult to comprehend.

Last year, plans to turn the prehistoric forest into a global tourist attraction took a step forward after proposals for a new discovery centre were submitted, with Brymbo Heritage Group aiming to transform the area and conserve the forest as a major site of geological interest.

The group’s efforts will be highlighted on S4C TV show Cynefin this weekend, which helps bring local tales and mythical stories to light in communities across Wales.

“It’s a unique place,” says palaeontologist Dr Tim Astrop. “Basically the forest consists of the fossilised remains of giant ancient trees which were fossilised where they stood 314 million years ago.

“They were covered during a period of catastrophic floods which buried the entire forest in sand and sediment and left stumps, leaves, detritus and a few animals too.”

Dr Astrop, who works as a fossil co-ordinator with the Brymbo Heritage Trust, is keen to highlight the importance of the site and let the community know about the upcoming work on the area.

“What you have here is a fossilised forest that is responsible for the deposition of the coal seams which ended up bringing industry to the area,” he says. “Everything from early man coming here because of the natural resources to the burgeoning industrial revolution and the ironworks which were set up here - it’s all a direct result of these forests being where they are.

“It’s a golden thread which runs through the site - these forests are responsible for a lot of the communities in North East Wales and Northern England.”

When the forest was first discovered, six tree-sized plants were initially found in a small area.

Work since then has revealed more than 20 specimens but the forest has a large number of two types of tree-sized plants - Calamites and Lepidodendron. There are also many remains of fossilised ferns, which would have lived alongside both the Calamites and Lepidodendron.

“Due to the abundance of plant material there haven’t been too many animals found but we have found a horseshoe crab which is a distant relative of today’s spiders and scorpions, and we have also found small shrimp like crustaceans which are early ancestors of today’s crabs and lobsters,” explains Dr Astrop.

“You’re not going to find a T-Rex in there but one of the beautiful things which helps people understand how old these fossils are is that these things were already fossilised by the time T-Rex was walking about.

“You had very early amphibians crawling out on to the land and very early reptiles and the dominant animal life was made up of very large insects.”

Dr Astrop is looking forward to the plans for the site as Brymbo’s major new visitor attraction takes shape and prepares for opening in 2021.

“We’re really gearing up for the construction of the semi-permanent excavation site which will go over part of the fossil forest,” he says. “If everything goes according to plan we should begin building in the next few months and we’re hoping to finish by late spring. It will enable us to excavate a portion of the forest in situ for display and interactive purposes.

“This is a community-driven project and part of my job is not only spearhead the site’s fossil management but also train up volunteers and enthuse and engage the local community so they can take ownership of this piece of natural heritage.”

According to Dr Astrop a growing number of people are coming forward to be volunteers at the Fossil Forest and he is now embarking on a training programme for those wishing to get involved.

“We need dedicated and enthusiastic people to help with every part of our excavation, specimen curation and science communication,” he added. “The training sessions are there to find local people who are really enthusiastic about getting to grips with their local natural history and might have been interested in paleontology most of their lives but have never had an access point before.

“I try and provide very general training so they know what they’re looking for and what our goals are.

“It’s going to be a big year here in Brymbo and I want to prepare the community for the deserved interest they’re going to get because this is a unique piece of natural history.”

The next Fossil Forest Volunteer Training takes place on Sunday, January 27, 2019 from 10am-2pm.

Go to for more information.