Gilbert's Pit Grand Opening

Published Monday, 23 May 2016

Visitors now have unprecedented access to the former quarry faces of Gilbert's Pit, one of London's most important geological Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) located in Charlton.

The newly installed steps represent the culmination of extensive partnership working between the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Natural England and the London Geodiversity Partnership.

The project, which involved the clearance of vegetation, removal of scree, and construction of stepped viewing platforms, was joint funded via a £10,000 grant from Natural England under the Conservation and Enhancement Scheme and £1,300 from the Royal Borough of Greenwich. The London Geodiversity Partnership also provided volunteers and technical expertise on the ground, including advice on which sections to improve and help in scoping a report for a geotechnical survey.

Gilbert's Pit is regularly visited by schools, geologists and is also an essential training ground for engineers. The platforms offer magnificent views of the disused sand, gravel and chalk workings. The remaining pit faces expose sediments laid down in a coastal environment about 58 million years ago and include rounded pebbles that once formed a beach as well as abundant fossil sea shells and even fossil leaves washed in from nearby rainforests.

By improving access, work undertaken at Gilbert's Pit has also addressed the main issues which have prevented the SSSI reaching favourable condition. The site had been classified in unfavourable condition with no change since 2002 because of increased natural erosion caused by people sliding down the slope, scree build up, and trees and scrub obscuring the exposures. All of this is resolved, and the SSSI is now in favourable condition.

The steps were opened at a ribbon cutting event on Wednesday 18 May 2016 attended by representatives of Natural England, the London Geodiversity Partnership and Royal Borough of Greenwich officers. Cutting the ribbon was Cllr John Fahy from Woolwich Riverside Ward.

Cllr Jackie Smith, Cabinet Member for Community, Safety and Environment said:

"I am absolutely delighted that this wonderful Site of Special Scientific Interest is now accessible to the public by appointment. The next stage will be encouraging local schools and community groups to see Gilbert's Pit for themselves and learn about the very rich history of the site."

Julie Russ, Land Management Adviser the Thames Valley Area Team said:

"Gilbert's Pit is an incredible geological SSSI opening a door into our past. I'm really pleased that we've been able to open up the site for research and study, offering safe access which has also put the SSSI into favourable condition. The Conservation and Enhancement Scheme is also providing funds for the on-going clearance of scrub re-growth to ensure that the sediments remain visible, so it should remain in good condition for some time to come!"

Laurie Baker, Chair of the Sites Working Group from the London Geodiversity Partnership added:

"The London Geodiversity Partnership applauds the new access to the face that has been brought about by joint working. It will allow geologists from school children and all ages, and construction engineers to see the complex layers beneath London. This important site will help give a better understanding when building our major infrastructure."

Access to Gilbert's Pit steps is by arrangement with the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Groups or individuals requiring access should contact Larry Blake (Senior Parks Ranger) on 020 8921 4124.

Notes to Editor:

1. Photos available - please contact the press office.

2. Gilbert's Pit, which cut down several tens of metres into the underlying chalk, was primarily worked for the Thanet Sand which was used for iron moulding (at the nearby Woolwich Arsenal) and glass manufacture. Closed in 1881, the Pit was filled post World War II with wartime rubble concealing the chalk and lower part of the Thanet Sand. It was first notified as a SSSI in 1953 and today exposes the top of the Thanet Sand Formation overlain by sediments that include the only permanent exposure of the Woolwich Formation in the Woolwich area of London, the Lewisham Leaf Bed and the distinctive rounded beach pebbles of the Blackheath Beds.

3. For more information about Gilbert's Pit, please contact:
Ellen Softley, Press Officer, Natural England London and the Thames Valley, on 020 8026 3092.

4. About Natural England:
Natural England is the government's advisor on the natural environment. Established in 2006, our work is focused on enhancing England's wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.

For more information see:

5. About the London Geodiversity Partnership:
Founded in 2008, the London Geodiversity Partnership seeks to share good practice, influence policy and establish cross-London working for geodiversity. For more information about the Partnership and London's Geology see the London Geodiversity Partnership's website:

For further media information please see our press office contact list at

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