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Act local!

iuyAndrew Harrison* examines the benefits and merits of geoconservation work

Many recent ‘Soapbox’ contributors have banged on about fieldwork and the importance of ‘hands-on geology’.  So, with this in mind, I would like to sing of the virtues of geoconservation work, which I have the task of organising.   Geoconservation provides protection and enhancement for features that cannot be replicated or reconstructed if lost or destroyed.  It is a fine way to see geology up close, discover local geology, and also delivers benefits to personal health and well-being!


Geoconservation involves clearing vegetation continually, maintaining sites and improving access to geological features.  Combined with the creation of interpretation boards and leaflets, it helps to communicate the subject of geology to the general public - providing an extremely valuable teaching, education and research resource that illustrates the processes which formed various geological features.  Linking such features between different sites helps to illustrate the geological evolution of the area and landscape over time.

Sadly though, geoconservation is often overlooked (usually in favour of conservation).  But, as Dr Ian Stimpson, (Senior Lecturer at Keele University and chair of GeoconservationUK Staffordshire) points out: ‘Nature is both biotic and abiotic…geoconservation is as important as conservation’.  Crucially, both protect and enhance sites of geological, historical and ecological importance, making them available to current and future generations.  They all form part of our heritage - contributing to ‘sense of place’ and cultural identity.

GeoconservationUK is a national body, recognising and promiting sites of geological importance.  In England, these are called Local Geological Sites (LGS).  In Scotland and Wales they are known as Local Geodiversity Sites (LGS) and Regionally Important Geodiversity Sites (RIGS), designated according to scientific, historical, aesthetic and educational qualities.  The Wren’s Nest and Saltwells’ Nature Reserves are two examples of ‘LGS’ within the Black Country. 

Wren’s Nest

World-renowned for its geological association with the Silurian Period, the Wren’s Nest gained national designation in 1956.  According to Rob Earnshaw (Head Warden) geoconservation gives Dudley an ‘international geological profile’, ‘engenders local pride in the area’ and engages the local community - particularly children - through activities like fossil hunting.  This has resulted in increased visitor numbers, geotourism and wealth generation.  It has also reduced antisocial behaviour such as fly-tipping and vandalism – all of which helps cut labour costs.

Saltwells, designated a geological SSSI in 1981, is important for its association with the Carboniferous and Silurian Periods.  According to Alan Preece (Senior Warden) geoconservation is ‘helping people to see beyond what is currently there’ - revealing hidden historical land uses: mining, quarrying, transport and manufacturing – and telling stories.  At Saltwells, this includes ‘overgrown railway tracks, and apple trees sprouting from miner’s lunchtime snacks’.  The creation, as a result of geoconservation work, of important grassland, wildflower meadows and other habitats, benefits rare flora and fauna. 

If you are interested in undertaking geoconservation work, reserve staff would be only too happy to receive your help - especially in the face of continuing cuts, under-resourcing and threats from development.  Local geological societies can provide more information about projects in your local area, otherwise visit:

* Andrew Harrison, Field Secretary of the Black Country Geological Society E: [email protected].