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Not just window dressing

Rob Butler* on the need for the restructured Geoconservation Committee to get its act together quickly

kljPicture: Open access rights, well-maintained landscapes and stunning geology provide peerless opportunities for undergraduate training – high in the NW Highlands Geopark.  Photo - Rob Butler 

The British Isles boasts a variety of beautifully exposed geology that is, for its sheer concentration, accessibility and historical importance, unrivalled anywhere in the world.  These sites have inspired generations of Earth scientists, both professional and amateur.  They remain our ‘shop window’ – few other physical sciences could provide such a hands-on link between the public and research. 


It is a resource that we under-use and at times squander.  There is an increasing disconnect between practising professionals who use (and sometimes abuse) sites for research, training and education and the communities who seek to conserve their local Earth heritage together with the statutory bodies who oversee this conservation. 

Thanks to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), the UK has a wonderful catalogue of key sites - the Geological Conservation Review.  But this listing reflects our science up to around 1980 – and many hundreds of the GCR sites still remain un-notified as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and therefore fall outside the statutory protection such designation brings.  Even those that are designated have boundaries that appear to be inappropriately drawn - as exemplified by the recent development issues facing Siccar Point. 


It’s time to get our shop window in order – a task now facing the Society’s newly restructured Geoconservation Committee.  The Society is also starting an annual event to celebrate geoconservation with the UK’s outcrop and landscape geology, bringing together the broadest community of local groups, partnerships, statutory bodies, researchers, other outdoor user-groups and land managers.  Bringing these issues closely into the Society’s reporting structures will allow us to be more effective – not only in pressing for proper protection for our key outcrops but also in assisting local geology groups working with councils and other bodies to improve access and interpretation.  And we can also join up these activities internationally, the better to support important outreach programmes such as the European (Global) Geopark Network. 

Watch this space – and let’s celebrate our wonderful outcrops!

* Prof. Rob Butler (School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen) is Chair of the Geoconservation Committee.  E: [email protected]