If you’ve managed to scramble up the steep sides of Parkhouse Hill, congratulations! You are standing on the remains of a reef attol, formed around 350 million years ago in the Lower Carboniferous. The hill still reflects the shape of the reef that formed it. If you look closely at the rocky outcrops you may find fossils of various sea creatures.
This site is now a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) so removing fossil material is forbidden. However, the collection of JW Jackson at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery contains many specimens from this site – and the collections helps us to understand what this reef would have been like when it sat in a warm, tropical sea.
Among the most common specimens from the site are brachiopods, sea animals also known as lamp shells. Although they look similar to molluscs like clams, they are not closely related. Their two shells are often unequal in size and each shell is symmetrical about its mid-line (unlike bivalves).
Brachipods come in many different sizes, from tiny specimens like those pictured below, to the large Gigantoproductus species which have been found up to 30cm wide.
Brachiopods attach with a stalk to hard surfaces on the sea bed and feed by opening their shells and waving food in with special hairlike cilia. There are about 300 living species of brachiopods. Along with over 90% of living things, the number of brachiopod species never recovered to the levels that existed before the Permo-Triassic mass extinction 250 million years ago. As such, the JW Jackson collection contains may important, extinct specimens.