A COLLECTION of bird fossils found in Walton could yield at least 50 new species, it has been revealed.

It is believed the items - dating back more than 54 million years - include many species new to science, including a falcon-like bird.

The collection of 700 fossils, hailed as being one of the most important in the world by experts, is from the beginning of the Eocene period and represents the early stages in the evolution of modern birds.

A notable characteristic of this period is that the global climate was several degrees warmer than it is today, meaning that the specimens may give scientists useful information about climate changes.

Palaeontologists have said there is no other collection like it in the UK.

The rare specimens, which have been donated to National Museum of Scotland, were collected over decades by amateur palaeontology enthusiast Michael Daniels, who died last year aged 90.

He had assembled the several hundred skeletons discovered in nodules of London Clay, which had eroded out of the Naze cliffs at Walton.

Experts say they are unusual in that they are preserved in 3D.

Bird bones are fragile and their remains are commonly flattened before fossilisation.

Mr Daniels’ daughter lived in Edinburgh, and it was on a family visit to the National Museum of Scotland more than 25 years ago that he shared news of his collection with the museum’s principal curator of vertebrates, Dr Andrew Kitchener.

Speaking about the fossils, Dr Kitchener said: “I was astonished at the amazing variety of specimens of all shapes and sizes.

“Many of the bones were minuscule, requiring great patience and skill to extract.

“The fact that the collection is now with us here at National Museums Scotland will be of interest to palaeontologists across the world.”

Experts believe the collection could yield at least 50 new species.

Avian palaeontologist Dr Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute, Frankfurt am Main, visited Mr Daniels many times to view the fossils.

“The importance of Michael Daniels’ collection cannot be overstated,” said Dr Mays.

“There is nothing like it in the UK, certainly, and it is comparable to other bird-rich sites in the US, China and Germany."