Humberside Geologist No. 14



By Barrie Heaton


Introduction – The 2002 UKRIGS conference was held at the Loreto Centre in Llandudno, North Wales over two days 3rd and 4th October, followed by the AGM on the morning of 5th October. Papers were presented in the mornings and field trips made in the afternoons. The conference was organised by the North Wales and the Chester RIGS groups. Attendance comprised some sixty delegates from all parts of Britain.

Wednesday 2nd October – The evening was taken up with registration and meeting delegates informally over dinner followed by displays in two of the side rooms. English Nature and British Geological Survey (BGS) had major displays, the latter specifically emphasising Collection of Geoscientific Records held in its National Geological Records Centre (NGRC). English Nature’s display relied strongly on the Heritage Coast designation in southern England. Several RIGS groups had local displays showing educational and work-in-progress projects; Staffordshire and Worcester groups had a very interesting joint demonstration of a computer programme for site registration data; Cumbria RIGS had a very good selection of literature available; and finally comment had to be made on the range of booklets from the Countryside Commission of Wales in which the duplication of languages was noteworthy.

Thursday 3rd October – After introductions by the Chairman of UKRIGS – Ken Addison, and outline of the conference events by Drs Cynthia Burek and Margaret Wood, the meeting was addressed by several speakers.

Jonathon Larwood of English Nature on Geodiversity – Sustainability and Recent Developments. Mr Larwood’s basis was recognised definitions of "geodiversity" as diversity of rocks, minerals, fossils, landforms, processes, etc., and "sustainabilty" as meeting the needs of the present without affecting future needs. This is clearly a complex matter fundamental to the RIGS concepts; thus we have the substrate geology deciding soil and flora and fauna, minerals affecting human economic activities, and landscape shape/processes strongly influencing climate/land use/tourism, and so on. Conservation of heritage as a historical primary source has to be considered. A 1994 U.K. biodiversity plan offered support for species and habitats, but did nothing for the underlying geology. Local Structure Plans may have SSSIs and and AONBs and some include RIGS but there is no national plan. English Nature sponsored studies brought out four recommendations; need for guidance on data-gathering; need to embed conservation action plans in Local Plans; such Plans must be complete with no gaps that can be exploited; and overlaps should be minimal to avoid confusion. English Nature is trying to support these objectives. New aggregate and landfill taxes are limited to certain types of products that effectively reduce range of applicability of funding, but English Nature’s aim is to target improved access, education, purchase of sites for tourism, etc., supply of information, site clearing, and site recording. For these purposes, until 31st March 2004, 95% funding is available via them. In making Applications it is vital that partnerships with owners, local authorities, tourism boards, education/universities, historical aspects, etc. be stressed.

Dr Cheryl Jones of the Worcester Group on a GeoConservation – Microsoft Program for Site Recording. Dr Jones described work by Staffordshire and Worcester Groups in devising a simple recording computer program for sites. A botanical system devised, by Craig Slawston of the Staffordshire Ecological Record, had been extended by using a variety of "dictionaries" to include stratigraphic, taxonomic, bibliographic, geographic, lithological and structural data. It was searchable by keyword, and accessible via the web. A demonstration showed its value and apparent simplicity. As a prototype it appeared comprehensive but Dr Jones emphasised that it was still in development and opinions on improvements more than welcomed.

Andrew Jenkinson on Interpretation of the Shropshire Geology. Dr Jenkinson’s talk brought out the difficulties encountered in deciding what ought to be classified as a RIGS. Shropshire has a very diverse geology ranging from the Welsh marches to the Staffordshire complexes. Essentially the range is a west to east traverse up a large portion of the UK geological column, but with inliers, and very diverse structure and surface morphology. A range of individual sites could be chosen to represent each strata, but his problem was which one to choose as the best, and then how should the underlying "shape" of the county be defined in his and County Plans for conservation. He saw the need as educational, and the solution as information boards at "selected" (as many as possible) locations.

The afternoon was spent in a very interesting field trip to the Great Orme. Essentially a carboniferous limestone "island" separated from the main structure of Wales, by sea in carboniferous times, and nearly so even today connected only by a recent alluvial bank. The Orme contains the most extensive karst platform in Wales, but also has many very recent landform effects, as well as bronze age copper mines. With respect to the landform a possible raised beach is problematic, but the stability of the cliff edges is more urgent. A road extends as a scenic drive around the Orme from Llandudno, but it was tested some ten or so years ago by an exceptional rainstorm that caused many "dry" debris flows. These travelled at great speed down channels in the cliffs and over and along the roads, and their mechanism caused much interest geologically. (And also financially to Llandudno since revenue is received from tolls on users). Several RIGS and SSSI sites were viewed in quarries near the summit, and the cooperation of the local authority in conserving these sites described – this latter specifically relating to safety of visitors who are very numerous on this popular and informative tourist locality. At one site a soil exposure has been categorised as a Geological Conservation Review (GCR) site. A visit to the copper mines was quite fascinating, and proved useful both to the owner by gaining valuable geological opinion on it origins, and to the visitors. The mines were apparently little more than spoil heaps fifteen years ago and were taken over by a mining engineer who has excavated them and, in doing so, found artefacts dating it to about 4500 BC. The deposits are veinous oxidised sulphides in dolomitised limestone and have been mined from the surface, and by following the veins underground. A short tour of the workings touched on the extent of the tunnels which reached a length of several kilometres, and a depth touching the water table. The mine has been designated a GCR site.

In the evening a trial run on a Llandudno urban geological trail was made by several of the delegates; comments were reviewed next day.

Friday 4th October: The morning was again taken up with talks and discussion, with two keynote speakers.

Prof. Peter Doyle of Greenwich University on Geodiversity via Urban Geology. Professor Doyle’s thesis was that the "built environment" is a much underused resource for geological education. Though his talk title referred to urban areas his definition of "built" was much wider including virtually all man-made activities, such as roads, quarries, mine dumps, cemeteries, streets, pavements, statues, docks, walls as well as those structures normally called "buildings". In effect he brought out the heritage that exists in the built environment; apart from the geological "exposures" resulting from these localities the historical aspect is well served in the human story detectable in them. It was not always possible to preserve buildings in themselves, but the value in them can be recognised and at least used whilst they still remain. Other sites of human activity are usable, often by inaction rather than deliberate action, e.g. road and rail cuttings, leaving quarries unfilled, areas of developments, deliberately (but attractively) minimally landscaped. Publicity regarding advantages and "education" of the several planning and building authorities could benefit RIGS groups’ work.

Richard Edmonds on the Dorset Coast World Heritage Site. Richard Edmonds’s talk took the conference into some very heavy conservation work. The difficulties met in bringing the coast into the world class were formidable, and the geological work was the least part. UNESCO is the body responsible for these "world class" sites, and this is the first such to be designated for its geology. The criterion is that it is a natural feature of "universal" value. The involvement of the Dorset and East Devon Councils in the process commenced many years ago, and it was admitted that the primary incentive was tourism. As an area the coast has much to offer in wildlife, but geology had been down the list of attractions. Mr Edmonds did not claim the glory for introducing the geological aspects, and it was hard diplomatic work in bringing together the interested bodies. It was by emphasising the near-uniqueness of the coast as an excellent exposure of the traverse of the Jurassic geology, and the tourism/educational attractiveness that success resulted. Aspects cited in the UNESCO designation were:- geology, fossils, landforms, history of science, education and training, richness of landscape, the character of the local buildings and social history resulting from the geology (stone buildings and associated communities).

The morning was completed by reports of activities in three RIGS groups.

Mike Browne of the Midlothian Group gave a brief rundown of activities in Scotland. He is a very active member of several groups around Edinburgh, mainly as a result of being area geologist with B.G.S., and member of the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Scottish work is mainly in the publicising of geology and geological trails by liaison with local authorities, but there is interest at a lower level working with biodiversity groups. Posters, information boards, tourism leaflets, appear to be supported by education and tourism bodies. Additionally the RIGS input to a canal renovation scheme nearing completion has been appreciated.

Mark Campbell of Gloucester RIGS group described experiences in seeking insurance cover for their activities. Whilst recommending the Geologists’ Association insurance schemes, their group has found that for site work/clearance the GA cover does not deal with equipment, employee liability, or professional indemnity, nor the risks allied to public access to sites. It was clear that his group’s policy was much more towards site ownership than most, and these factors needed to be addressed. Two insurers had been found useful Zurich Municipal (also used by the British Trust of Conservation Volunteers), and Royal Sun Alliance (used by Wildlife Trusts), but he advised against relying on other organisations’ cover – presumably after some unfortunate experience. For the Gloucester Group a premium of about 250 had been negotiated.

Alastair Fleming completed the morning with a very brief report on work with education bodies. Essentially these are very productive within schools, and science clubs. A substantial amount of work is going on – relatively low key but productive – on biodiversity teaching, and from the RIGS viewpoint is relatively untapped.

The afternoon field trip was to the far west end of Anglesey – fortunately in fine weather – to Rhoscolyn where the Precambrian rocks are very well exposed as a strong anticline superimposed on heavily deformed injected quartz and mudstone schist layers. Extensive igneous intrusions and faults cut the several rock groups making the resolution of the earth movements a fascinating study. The relatively low grade metamorphism in many of the rocks has enabled identification of bedding and sedimentary structures such as dewatering, flute casts, greywacke deposition sequences identifying younging directions, silicification from high pressure fluids, and deformation sequences to a higher degree than in many other rocks of Precambrian age in Britain. As a consequence the area has been well studied and forms a valuable educational resource. The trip was admirably led by Margaret Wood, and Jack Treagus and his wife who are preparing a guide to the geology of Anglesey. En route to Rhoscolyn highway cuttings were pointed out where exposures and erratics had been left as points of geological interest at the request of the North Wales RIGS group.

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