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Key Sites - Cherwell District

Oxford Geology Group

Key geological sites: Cherwell District.

These are the geological SSSI sites to be found within the civil administrative boundaries of Cherwell District Council.


The geology of the district youngs south-eastward and comprises rocks of Lower and Middle Jurassic age.


There are seven sites in the district designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).


Please note that listing on this page does not imply that public access is freely available or has been given. Most sites are not accessible because they are on private land or they may be unsafe. Permission must be sought from the landowner before a visit.

Map of Oxfordshire indicating the Vale of White Horse

Ardley Cutting & Quarry                                                                       SP (52)4069

This site 40.13 ha site has been a SSSI since 1981 and lies in the eastern part of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds adjacent to Stephenson’s London & Birmingham railway. The railway cutting and southernmost quarry together constitute one of southern England’s key sites for Mid Jurassic strata. It has exposures range from the Chipping Norton Formation to the White Limestone Formation and therefore the entire local Bathonian is represented with the exception of the Forest Marble.


The Chipping Norton Formation is composed of oolitic limestones, sandy limestones, and mudstones. The formation is deeply excavated by sand-filled channels which themselves are topped by rootlet horizons and a lignite, indicating a period of emergence as low, marshy land. The overlying Sharps Hill Formation here consists of a thin oyster-bearing clay horizon and indicates the return of marine conditions.


The Taynton Formation, consisting of flaggy, oolitic limestones and a basal oyster bed was deposited in a relatively inshore site under turbulent conditions. The Hampden Marly Formation contains a rich fauna of oysters and brachiopods at a number of horizons. The cutting is the only site where an ammonite has been recovered from this formation and places it in the Procerites progacilis Zone, correlating it with the Acuminata Beds of the South Cotswolds and Somerset. The uppermost White Limestone Formation consists of approximately seven metres of micritic and peloidal limestones with subsidiary marls and clays. The site is the type locality for the Ardley Member of this formation. The abundant gastropods, bivalves and brachiopods preserved in these limestones enable correlations with the White Limestone Formation in the Cotswolds, and with the Blisworth Limestone Formation in Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire.


This is a key site for its fossil marker horizons, palaeontology, sedimentary features such as channels and emergent surfaces, and its stratigraphy. The rocks of Ardley enable the Bathonian sections of the Midlands to be correlated with those of the Oxford area and Cotswolds. It is therefore a site of national importance for the understanding of the Jurassic Period in Britain.




  • Ardley Quarry is accessible to the public.

  • BBOWT reserve.

  • The site is quite overgrown and prone to shallow flooding but a reasonable expanse of the exposure is free of vegetation.

Ardley Trackways                                                                                  SP (52)4048

Ardley Trackways is 63.59 ha site and has been a SSSI since 2010. The site is a series of working quarries lying either side of the railway line from Bicester to Banbury, to the south of the village of Ardley, about 4 km northwest of Bicester in Oxfordshire. The bedding-plane in which the trackways lie is near the top of the Shipton Member of the White Limestone Formation. The general trend of the trackways is on a bearing north-north-east to south-south-west, although a few trend north-east to south-west. The Shipton Member of the White Limestone Formation is of Bathonian age (Middle Jurassic – approximately 165 million years ago) and was deposited within a belt of near-shore lagoons on the north-western margin of the London Platform (a land mass extending over part of the area now consisting of south-eastern England, the southern North Sea and Belgium).


In locations where it has previously been exposed immediately adjacent to the SSSI, the bedding-plane surface has so far revealed the presence of over 40 more-or-less continuous trackways attributed to two-legged, carnivorous (theropod) dinosaurs and four-legged vegetarian (sauropod) dinosaurs. The trackways yield information relevant to our understanding of dinosaur locomotion, their burial and how they came to be preserved (taphonomy), the implications these trackways have for the classification (systematic taxonomy) of the footprints, the evolutionary relationships of the dinosaurs thought to be represented by the trackways, the taxonomic composition of this particular ecosystem, and insights into the behaviour (ethology) of these animals.


Evidence of a change in the stride (gait transition) associated with a temporary increase in speed on a theropod trackway has important implications for understanding the mechanics of the limb movement and the evolution of the oldest theropods. The interpretation of many of the sauropod tracks as having been formed by members of the Titanosauria (a large group of sauropods characterised by their wide-gauge limb posture), pushes the origins of this group back into the Middle Jurassic. This provides evidence to counter theories that titanosaurs originated in Gondwana (the continent consisting of Africa, Antarctica, Australia and South America) after the break-up of Pangea (the supercontinent consisting of Gondwana combined with Eurasia and North America) during the late Middle Jurassic. The similar directions of the trackways, combined with the relatively limited time period over which the tracks could have been formed, may suggest that the sauropods were moving in a mixed herd. It has also been speculated that the theropods were following the sauropod herds and that additional evidence from the site might provide insights into pack behaviour in large theropod dinosaurs.




  • The trackways have been buried and the quarry workings are not open to the public.

  • This is an active quarry.

  • You can view a replica trackway of (taken from Ardley) on the lawn of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Hook Norton Cuttings & Banks                                                            SP (33)6020

This 6.8 ha site has been designated a SSSI since 1986. Jurassic rock sections here form the type-section of the widely recognised late Bajocian/early Bathonian 'Hook Norton Member' of the Chipping Norton Formation. The cuttings are amongst the most important sections of the formation in existence, particularly as they lie in the type-area of this rock unit. They are of considerable regional stratigraphic importance, potentially exhibiting a section from the top of the Upper Lias (Toarcian) up to at least the Sharp's Hill Formation (Middle Bathonian). The section is a vital one for understanding some of the fundamental changes which occur within the Middle Jurassic successions as they are traced from the Gloucestershire/Oxfordshire area into the east Midlands.




Hook Norton Cutting
  • The site is open to the public.

  • This is a  BBOWT reserve.

Kirtlington Quarry                                                                                   SP (41)9499

This 3.3 ha site has been a geological SSSI since 1955. Of only five Middle Jurassic mammal sites in the world (all of them British) Kirtlington has yielded by far the most diverse assemblage described to date. At least nine species of therian and prototherian mammals occur, together with a stratigraphically late tritylodontid. These occur in a discontinuous rootleted clay of probable marsh origin within the basal Forest Marble Beds (Upper Bathonian). The bed has yielded crocodilian, pterosaur and theropod dinosaur material. The richest mammal-bearing locality of Middle Jurassic age known anywhere in the world.


The Kirtlington Mammal Bed at this site has also yielded a rich and diverse fauna of fish species based on teeth. These include Lepidotidae,   Pycnodontidae and Caturus. The site is very rich in micro-shark teeth. Elasmobrancs include AsteracanthusHybodus and a lamnid.




A special page about Kirtlington Quarry, in our new 'Focus on...' series, will be online Spring 2015, featuring images, video, logs and sections.

A field party taking a look at the White Limestone Formation at Kirtlington Quarry
Kirtlington Quarry
  • The site is open to the public.

  • The site is managed by Cherwell District Council.

Neithrop Fields Cutting (Drayton Railway Cutting)                           SP (41)9499

An outstanding section in the Middle and Upper Lias is represented at this 1.5 ha site, including the best and most complete section through the ironstones of the Banbury Ironstone Field. The make-up of the Middle Lias sediments below the ironstone illustrates the proximity of the Banbury area to the 'London landmass', an island which had a strong influence on geography and sedimentation through much of the Jurassic. Above the Marlstone iron-ore development there is a section in Upper Lias clays including the ammonite-rich 'Cephalopod Limestones'. A key palaeogeographic and stratigraphic locality. Neithrop has been a SSSI since 1972.



  • The site is open to the public.

  • This is a BBOWT reserve

Sharps Hill Quarry                                                                                   SP (33)3859

This 2.4 ha geologically important site is the type locality and one of the finest exposures of the richly fossiliferous Sharp's Hill Formation (probably corresponds with the progracilis Zone). The underlying Lower Bathonian Chipping Norton Formation ('Swerford Beds' Facies) is also present in the section. The site is critical for the sedimentological and stratigraphical interpretation of the north Oxfordshire Bathonian succession and for lithostratigraphic correlation between Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire. Snails from the so-called 'Viviparus Marl' of Sharp's Hill were once the subject of a considerable controversy over the freshwater/marine palaeoecology (habitat preference) of Bathonella (Viviparus). Sharp’s Hill Quarry has been designated a SSSI since 1955.



  • The site is not open to the public.

Stratton Audley (Elm Farm) Quarries                     SP (62)0054 and  SP (62)0250

A large part of the Jurassic White Limestone, as well as the entire Forest Marble and the Lower Cornbrash (hodsoni Zone-discus Zone) have been exposed by quarrying at Stratton Audley. The quarry is an important location for studying facies changes which occur in the upper part of the White Limestone and in the Forest Marble, when these two formations are traced from Oxfordshire eastwards towards the 'London landmass' and north-eastwards into Buckinghamshire. Micritic limestones ('lime mudstones') developed within the Forest Marble between Bicester and Milton Keynes, and well displayed in this section, are distinctly different to limestones found within the Forest Marble elsewhere. They were probably deposited as lime-muds in restricted, brackish to freshwater lagoons. The Stratton Audley section affords an excellent opportunity to study the sediments and faunas which characterised such environments in Upper Bathonian times, as well as those of the more marine and fossiliferous Lower Cornbrash above.



  • The site is open to the public.

  • The geological exposure is submerged.

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