Humberside Geologist No. 13


Notes on the Third UKRIGS Conference 30th August to 2nd September 2000

Held at Newton Rigg College, Penrith.

Report by Barrie Heaton and Mike Horne.

The above annual conference of the Association of United Kingdom RIGS Groups was attended by Mike Horne and Barrie Heaton as delegates of the East Yorkshire RIGS Group. It comprised a series of presentations on activities of several RIGS groups, and on conservation policy, together with local field trips, and poster displays. The AGM was held on the final day.

Mervyn Dodd – "Introduction to Lake District Geology" As an opener Mervyn Dodd, a retired teacher from Whitehaven and active member of the Cumberland Geological Society, gave an evening slide tour of Cumbrian geology. It was very light-hearted but informative, and he amply brought out the value of many areas being included in the local Cumbria RIGS Group.

Mike Windle – "The Oxford Experience" A relatively new group found many geologists but only three sites - of a neighbouring group’s designation – Why? a) an assumption that the universities would do the work, and b) the emphasis had been on ecology and biology. There was no data base of sites and no awareness of geology. Because there were no links with Local Authority, there was no reference back on L.A. geological conservation matters. The Group found that L. A. "Ecologist" handled all planning and conservation aspects, (probably in absence of anyone else), so a re-education process had to be undertaken, but this had not been entirely welcome. However, progress was being made; contact with planners on ten trial sites was in hand. Site assessments were revealing interesting points, and debate on just how sites should be used leads to differences. "Honeypot sites" attract funds from tourism and education, but the effect may be anti-conservation in practice, and avoidance of damage to "scientifically or historically important" sites may be the right aim. He saw the Group as having developed well; it was pursuing a line of widespread publicity of its work and had managed to make contributions to the Local Minerals and Waste Plans for the County – and indeed sought to be the body of first information on geology in the County. Sadly there appeared to be some antagonism with Wildlife Trusts over designation and access – he saw this arising partly from lack of knowledge (which can be rectified), but mainly as a potential threat to funding if RIGS are allowed in.

Brian Young – "Over-collecting and Misuse –Caldbeck Fells Experience" The Caldbeck Fells are a part of the Lake District National Park. As part of the Skiddaw area the fells are an SSSI of national importance. They are also a significant geological area with respect to their mineralisation and mining history dating back many centuries. The fells have become a major collecting area for mineral collectors – amateur and "professional" – and this is resulting in serious damage, biological, botanical, archaeological, and environmental. Some of the activities described by Dr. Young were well into the serious trespass and vandalism category, involving deep extraction and tipping of wastes, massive removal of rocks for home sifting, and some rather threatening behaviour towards Park rangers. He had strong views on the activities of 'micro-mounters', mineral collectors who look for small but perfect crystals.

A licensing procedure was being tried by the Nat. Park Authority as owners of the area, in the interests of conserving the scientific and geological value and limiting damage, but it was being abused or justified under specious and bogus arguments. One specific problem related to archaeologists – very powerful apparently – who don’t realise the historical importance of tip stratigraphy, but see only the "shape" as important during any restoration operations on sites. It is important to ensure that all views are made known and taken into account. The problem was not unique and needed to be addressed on a national level, but there is a real need for control and enforcement of rules if much is not to be lost.

Peter Cripps – "The Peterborough Geology Audit" This is an interesting concept; small charitable trusts working in partnership with Peterborough City Council with the object of auditing environmental aspects of the area. Known as the Peterborough Environmental City Trust set up in 1992 to look at e.g. transport, archaeology, geology, energy, etc. it has now been incorporated into the City Environmental Action plan. Some 9-10 staff, from widely diverse local interests, invitees and post-grad students, are used. Some 70 local geological sites have been identified, (in itself surprising in the Peterborough area), and a form of "sorting" is now in progress. Seven have been identified as very significant, and 13 as significant. Site owners have been supportive. The Wildlife Trust operates the RIGS, but the Local Plans consolidate their status and any subsequent activities such as restoration, maintenance, use, etc.. A number of interesting methods of preserving sites were given, including working with the Highways Dept., wherever any road-cuts were made to examine, and possibly leave exposed, any strata – surprisingly the wildlife interests had also been met by this activity as a quite new flora and fauna was found to develop.

Eric Robinson – "How can Archaeologists and Geologists Work Together in Geo-Conservation ?" The Geological Association is trying to publicise geomorphology and geology in its work, and in this direction it has been working with archaeologists. These tend to have a very detailed interest in the "stratigraphy" of their sites with respect to artefacts, but Dr Robinson showed how the geology became important. Aspects such as soil nature (acidity, composition, changes in strata, leachates, etc.) had an unrecognised effect on preservation of materials, but the nature of the stone items found was often not recognised either. The origins of the stones could reveal a great deal about the civilisation levels being excavated, possibly indicating trading or migration routes, but geology/geomorphology was so often fundamental to the choice and subsequent existence of the site and the civilisation. A large number of slides were used to exemplify the relationships. He made a strong plea to geologists to think a little wider in their studies to emphasise the archaeological aspects, and to think of them by working with archaeologists.

Field Trip – "Managing Delicate Sites" – Limestone Pavements (Mike attended) This trip, unfortunately very wet, was to Little Asby near Orton, where the Carboniferous Limestone pavement, with its clints and grikes and unique flora has been damaged extensively by the removal of the water-worn surfaces for sale to garden centres as rockery stone. Some progress has been made in terminating such working, but the education process has a long way to go before these pavements are safe. We were shown an area where extraction and sheep grazing had been stopped, allowing the pavement to return to its natural appearance. There was much discussion about the formation of the pavement during the Ice Age . The point was very clearly made that the geological resource should be considered as being finite and cannot recover from abuse as fast as the biological resource.

Workshop – "The Importance of Planning and the Definition of RIGS" (Barrie attended). If Local Authorities can be persuaded to include RIGS as special sites for conservation in Local Plans a degree of control can be given. This is not the level of the nationally recognised SSSIs, but if carefully chosen they can be protected insofar as the Planners will take note when any activity is envisaged on or near them. Consultation thus becomes an option. Additional reasons are the raising of the sites’ profiles, and a degree of legitimacy to RIGS groups being offered. However, the status so gained carries a major responsibility. The information must be professional, and reliable. Mention was made that RIGS members may be asked to support Plans at Appeals – so accuracy of data must be high if any RIGS group wishes to be a first source on geological information. This question caused much argument – specifically from the professional geologists who saw a threat to their expertise – and there is no doubt that this question was not resolved. Discussion took place – again unresolved – on how sites were to be used? Were they to be tourist sites (for which Tourism Dept. money is available), educational sites with limited access (allowing that geological education at Local Authority level is decreasing – not in favour), or purely scientific or historical sites protected for deeper study?

One RIGS group had a full time RIGS planning Officer to whom every planning application was directed. This was working well, and apparently well supported by landowners. It offered speed of response (difficult to handle in our group), and was gaining the confidence of the L.A. planners. He had also duties on negotiating for Landfill and Aggregates Tax grants that were, in effect funding, his employment, and inputs into ROMPs (Reviews of Mineral Plans) and Local Structure Plans.

The second part was the definition of what comprised RIGS, and then what might be construed as "areas of geomorphological value". Many views on the former emerged, and my conclusion was that each Group had a need to decide for itself, basing its opinion on the actual geology of its area. There is a need to assess the importance level, but each feature assumes its own merit. On "Geomorphological Sites" aspects such as land form and process of formation count; landscape features such as landslips, drumlins, major glacial troughs, beach and river forms, screes, etc. should be "protected", but in reality how can one do this? A possible route was by the designation "High Landscape Value" such as we have in the current (old) Humberside Plans, but we have to ensure that they are continued into ERYC Plans. Such a designation offers some protection of the features without actually specifying them in local detail.

Field Trip – Penrith Trail Organised by Eric Robinson and Eric Skipsey this was an evening walk around Penrith identifying the types and origins of the stones used in buildings. The majority were the local Permian red sandstone, but others were abundant, partly when used for decorative effect, but also as imports of stones from surrounding areas of this widely varying geology.

Cynthia Bueren – Uses and Abuses of RIGS Sites This informative talk dealt with problems encountered in N.Wales. She considered that "preservation" was restoration to original condition, and "conservation" was looking after a site, and the choice depends on one’s viewpoint – irreplaceable, unique, educational, scientific, aesthetic, or historic. Conservation is also very subjective unless precise definitions of aims of conservation can be made. Several examples were described:-

  1. Castell Holt - a castle ruin with interests as a historical site, but mounted on a sandstone plinth of faulted sedimentary sandstone. A safe site used educationally and conserved by Welsh Nature who accepted an input on the geological aspects. Carries a slight problem in being on the Welsh/English border and different authorities have influences.
  2. Velvet Hill – A road cut near Lllangollen; it is a site of historic geological interest examined by Darwin and Sedgwick; not unique geologically but its history is irreplaceable. Viewed as an "Integrity Site".
  3. Bryn Pyden – Near Colwyn Bay, a limestone pavement with a disused quarry. Difficulty is whether to clear the area, to allow grazing or to allow to revert to a natural state. Use as a research area on microclimates in Karst structure jeopardised due to lack of security for equipment as the site fencing cannot be afforded.

Within the Welsh Wildlife Trust and Welsh Nature views on geo-tourism are ambivalent, and each interest botany, wildlife, ecology, geology, etc., sees its own criteria as paramount so other aspects are unsupported. That this should not be so is all too obvious, since each is interdependent.

Jean Slee-Smith – Attempting to Spread the Word This was a report on Cumbria RIGS activities. In association with Cumbria Museums the RIGS data had been correlated but it was found that the information was not being used, and a web-site has been set up. This in turn had brought a need to categorise sites from an access/safety point of view. Open permission was clearly preferred but public safety was crucial and many sites couldn’t/shouldn’t be publicised this way. One useful designation was "GELS" for geologically educational sites. Soils were not selected for RIGS due to the sheer difficulty of protection; and geomorphological sites probably will fall into the GELS category. A prime aim for Cumbria is to produce guides and leaflets. Funding from Tourism is not sufficient on its own, and methods of producing and marketing the publications were dealt with at some length. Their aim is to generate interest in geology and geomorphology - not profit – so tourism is crucial. This has resulted in possible sites not being designated due to lack of support from the County Council. (A debatable viewpoint).

Jolyon Dodgson – The Landowners Position A Country Landowners Association organiser, Mr Dodgson put a persuasive case for bringing in the landowner at the earliest stage in consideration of any designation. The landowner has his rights, and he often sees any designation as an inroad into those rights – the more so since one designation can lead to others, and more restrictions on his use of the land. Planning law is now biased in favour of the owner’s free use of his land but inroads such as rights of way, SSSIs, lack of tax breaks for non-statutory designations such as RIGS, areas of high landscape value , etc. included in Local Plans by planners are real inroads on income and use. Some of the interest groups are very aggressive and a hypersensitivity exists. A sympathetic approach, often to a small farmer who doesn’t really understand geology (or other interest), is vital if progress is to be made. During discussion on this matter several speakers emphasised that explanations of the value or uniqueness of a site to farmers had brought out a real interest, and co-operation was excellent. But aspects such as permission for access by the public – especially the tourism type of public – needed to be handled very carefully indeed. (Again we are back to what are RIGS for?).

Tom Hose – Rocks, Rudists, and Writings This was a semi-humorous examination of several leaflets from the point of view of the reader; aspects such as clarity, technicality, presentation, illustration, intended reader, etc., were reviewed. All were "correct" for their content, but were they correct for their intended audience? We had to decide and as yet the RIGS movement seems to be unsure of itself in his opinion. Dr Hose's talk was very thought provoking, and a little controversial. But if we geologists want to stimulate public interest in the conservation of sites we have to be able to communicate effectively without 'dumbing down'.

Mike Browne – Geo/Biodiversity and Planning. Mike Browne, of the Lothian RIGS Group, thanks to being a Chairman of both wildlife and RIGS Groups, was in a somewhat special position of having an integrated overview on conservation. Mike Browne took the conference through the way in which the Lothian planners had incorporated and worked with the ideas of these groups in preparing their Biodiversity Plan, accepting geology as having a fundamental role in how biodiversity had developed in the various regions forming the Lothian area. The Central Highland Region carries a very wide selection of geological structures, and the flora, fauna, aquifers, human activity, settlements, culture, were all to a large extent co-dependent on those structures. Abuse, or lack of co-ordination in the planning stages could upset the balances, and this had been recognised and accepted by the planners. Working with the planners was a crucial part in geo/biodiversity preservation.

Ken Addison – Drilling for RIGS. Dr. Addison described a program of working with a quarry operator in what might be seen as a "living" RIGS. A quarry at Pen y Bryn for a brickworks in Caernarfon had shown signs, during stripping of overburden, of quaternary activity in the form of water channels infilled with peat and biological residues. Inaccessibility of the working face lead to a series of boreholes being made to explore the shape of the lower quaternary surface, with the full co-operation of the owner. The record of this soon to disappear Pre-Devensian slice had proved to be of great value in identifying climate changes (to lower temperatures) over this period. But the main aim of Dr Addison’s presentation was to highlight how such working sites could be used to develop good relations with operators. This one for example had provided funding, and was very proud of the finds to the extent of placing a showcase for visitors.

Field Trip – Cowraik Quarry Cowraik quarry has been a source of Permian red sandstone for the Penrith area for several centuries, but is now disused. Ownership is indeterminate, but with the co-operation of Eden District Council and Cumbria Wildlife Trust, the Cumbria RIGS group has opened it to visitors and is preparing a leaflet describing the geology and wildlife. Much work is required to determine just how to manage and conserve it, due to the infestation with bracken and weed-trees, but a walkway is established, together with signing of the features. Of specific geological interest are the dune bedding structures visible and quartz infilling of minor faulting.

Field Trip – Threlkeld Quarry Trail This quarry on the northern end of the Helvellyn range shows a boundary between the Borrowdale volcanics and the Skiddaw group rocks with a microgranite laccolith intrusion between. The trail is a walk around the quarry identifying metamorphic aureole contact areas, xenoliths, faulting, folding, cooling joints, and minor mineralisation. Associated with the trail is a geology and mining museum with a hands-on approach, run mainly by amateurs. There are many bits of quarrying machinery and several vehicles in varying states of preservation and an indoor display crammed full of local rocks and minerals and the history of local mining.

Peter Doyle – What Should RIGS be About? Dr Doyle from Greenwich University was the "Key Speaker" at the end of the conference. He felt that conservation should be seen from two angles; the scientific interest, and the educational/promotional value, but the main need was to take the public with us, to cut out the scientific mystique and to make geology "sexy". Around Edinburgh there was so much of geological interest in the building stones, the historical sites, the geomorphology of the area, and of course Murchison House – home to the BGS in Scotland. Sources of stones for repair of buildings were disappearing fast as waste tips or through neglect. Tools such as labelling of stones, stone trails, adopt a memorial, etc. with details of stone types, ages, origins, were all available, especially in the urban environment, but equally in the tourism hot-spots – all without need to resort to RIGS designations. RIGS though did need to be taken seriously as bulwarks against destruction of important sites. His final plea was for use of rock to be encouraged and to persuade urbanites of its attractions.

Poster Display This comprised a selection of stands showing the publications and facilities available from various RIGS Groups and from the G.A., English Nature, RSNC, and BGS.. Typically Newsletters, Geological Guides, Leaflets, membership details, etc., were on show.

The Annual General Meeting. The conference had been opened by Dr. Ken Addison the UKRIGS Chair giving a report of the activities of the Executive Committee for the past year. Consultation of RIGS Groups had been completed and the June 2000 report incorporated views of many members. UKRIGS had no outside income and grateful thanks were offered to Royal Society for Nature Conservation secretariat, but there did appear to be confusion /opinion differences on funds from English Nature. Links have been established with Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and a common position on aims is emerging. Clause 20 of the Countryside Act relates to local sites – including geological and geomorphological sites – and requires Local Authorities to produce a Conservation Strategy, with which local RIGS groups ought to be involved. A revised version of PPG 9 is imminent on Nature Conservation and will be of interest. Site Assessment Sheets will be an essential tool in both of these latter activities, and some definition of standards for RIGS will be vital – this was a matter presently of debate. He concluded by reporting a matter that has split the Executive to some extent – whether in the future the structure should be a single Director nationally, or whether a number of local/regional ones will be needed

Some 2000-2500 sites now registered, the number of possible RIGS are estimated at 11,000-14,000. Publicity is variable but developing nicely; it would help if groups could circulate their efforts to other groups. Links with other organisations RSNC/Wildlife Trusts seems to be variable and some views are tending to extremism from both sides!

The AGM itself was a lively meeting, with controversy over amendments to the Constitution, which dragged on beyond the lunch break - evidence that the Association is still young and enthusiastic.

Final Words. One of the benefits of attending a conference like this is the opportunity to meet members of other RIGS Groups and take part in the informal discussions that spring up in the evenings.

There are now many RIGS groups but many are weak, mainly committees with little or no funding for the necessary data systems and conservation work. Some Groups have decided to concentrate on the educational value of their best sites - with the publication of leaflets funded by grants, whereas our East Yorkshire Group has concentrated on the selection of sites for their research potential to try to protect them from damage. Is that just a function of the local geology or a difference in approach? Over the period of the conference it became apparent that the aims and needs of local Groups varies considerably, and that the national organisation has to be aware of the differences. Is a group that does not wish to seek funding to publicise their RIGS really being inactive?

There is still the need for geologists to remind those in conserving buildings that the stone is also important. The stone plays an important part in the history of the building as well as being an educational resource in itself. We also need to convince those involved in planning and nature conservation that natural geological exposures took a very long time to form and although the rocks are old and tough, the sites will not recover if damaged. We should also remind planners that there will be a need for dimension stone to repair our historic buildings in the future, so it is essential that we do not lose the quarries that were the source of the stone!

It also seems that we have still not yet addressed the fundamental problems of geo-conservation. There seem to be two threats to geological sites - geologists and the public. We geologists damage sites by collecting. So some important sites need to be protected from ourselves by imposing restrictions. This usually involves a split of the geological community into two - good geologists and bad geologists. Good geologists have an established reputation (presumably based on previous collecting) and have the interests of geo-conservation at heart. But do good geologists really have the right to stop others - future good geologists from collecting? The other enemy of geo-heritage is the public - need for building stone, rocks for our gardens and the need of holes in the ground for waste disposal. Most RIGS Groups seem to be tackling the public threat by educating the public through the publication of leaflets and the creation of guided walks. If the groups do this well then some of the public will become geologists and may want to start a geological collection to aid their studies and enjoyment of the subject!

A wide diversity of views was all too apparent in the lectures and in the succeeding discussions. Publicity and the targets of publicity; what is a RIGS?; management ideas for RIGS; sources of funding; relationships with other organisations; relationships with planners appeared to be the main topics of contention. It was very clear that approaches were widely varied, and philosophy of RIGS designation has some way to develop before a common view can emerge.

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