You may not have realised, as you strolled along the shingle beaches between Felixstowe and Southwold, that you were treading on a precious gift, delivered to Suffolk’s coast over the centuries by the North Sea…
The coastline between Felixstowe and Southwold is known to some as the ‘Amber Coast.’
These popular beaches are in fact a great place to look for the fossilised resin, which originated in ancient forests where the Baltic Sea now exists.
It is easily missed, since raw amber looks just like a dull, brown stone, only resembling the beautiful gem we recognise and love when it is polished.
Britain has been the recipient of amber from the cold North Sea ever since it became an island at the close of the last glaciation.
This fossilised tree sap is forty million years old, and some of it even contains things like insects, the remnants of a lost world never seen by humankind.
So where did it come from?
Where the Baltic Sea now exists, there was once an immense forest. It passed into history tens of millions of years after the last dinosaurs. At one time it contained a wide variety of mammals and birds, and invertebrates (especially insects) were as diverse and abundant there as they are today.
The brown, syrupy resin was released from the trunks of the trees when they were damaged by fires or storms, disappearing amongst the fallen pine needles below.
Buried in the soil, the resin was gradually subjected to immense pressure, a process which lasted for millions of years. The end product? It was fossilised into amber, perfectly preserving anything that came into contact with during that process.
The amber was collected by grinding ice sheets and transported to the west, before falling to the bottom of the new sea that separated Britain from the continent.
And now it can be found on the many beaches on our coast, including Shingle Street, Aldeburgh, Dunwich and Southwold.
East coast fisherman have gathered pieces of amber in their nets from the seabed for centuries – why not find some of the treasure for yourself! If you’re in the Southwold area, you might like to visit the Amber Museum And Shop to find out more about the jewels of the Suffolk Coast.