Sunday 20 November 2011

Bearreraig Bay SSSI Looted

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) have announced that fossil hunters have hacked tonnes of rock from the cliffs on Skye in Scotland at a unique palaeontological site of Jurassic fossil-bearing strata near Bearreraig Bay (within a Site of Special Scientific Interest SSSI) in an apparent organised search for valuable fossils which may already be up for sale online. This has been called the worst example of reckless fossil-hunting in recent years.
SNH said the damage was the result of “irresponsible collecting by a selfish minority [that] is threatening this unique aspect of Skye’s natural heritage”. It is thought the thieves used a crowbar to hack the rock and possibly sledgehammers to smash it to look for fossils. The damage was first discovered in July. It follows reports of rare dinosaur footprint fossils being removed from a [...] SSSI at Valtos in Skye earlier this year. SNH and police are investigating the incidents and are appealing for information. [...] Any excavation and removal of rock needs permission from SNH as well as the landowner.
Three years ago, the Scottish Fossil Code was launched to help safeguard the fossil record. By following the code, people can stay within the law, respect the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, and ensure they follow best practice in collecting and storing fossils. The code encourages collectors to consider donating anything special they find to a museum for use in future scientific study and enjoyment by all. It is quite an interesting exercise to compare this fossil code with the code of practice for artefact hunters. There are a number of very significant differences which the "partners' outreaching to artefact hunters might want to think about.

SNH geologist Colin MacFad said the incidents near Bearreraig Bay and Valtos were “thoroughly upsetting”.
He said he had noticed rocks containing fossils from Bearreraig selling on the internet for £1,200, and smaller ammonite fossils for up to £30. He said: “Fossil collecting is important for scientific and educational purposes, and is a popular hobby. It is better for fossils that fall from cliffs to be found, collected and enjoyed rather than be eroded and washed away by the tide. “However, speeding up the process by large-scale rock removal, as in this alarming case is irresponsible and illegal, and also potentially dangerous to people as the cliff faces are undermined and destabilised. “SNH is committed to ensuring vulnerable fossil resources last for future generations to collect and learn from.”
Again, this is like the contrast between accidental finders picking up and reporting objects on the surface and those that go out with equipment to locate buried items and dig them up. It would be nice to hear English Nature saying they are committed to ensuring vulnerable archaeological resources last for future generations to investigate and learn from.

Along with quarrying, erosion and burial of sites, reckless collecting is one of the main threats to the fossil heritage. Most collectors are harmless curio gatherers or collectors who supply museums and academic researchers. But others can be ruthless thieves who can wreck areas of historic importance. Areas like Achanarras quarry in Caithness and Birk Knowes in Lanarkshire have been targeted, as have sites in Ayrshire and the Moray coast. In previous years, sandstone containing a 1ft-long reptile footprint was illegally removed from the Clashach Quarry, near Hopeman in Moray. In another case, several tonnes of rock, representing half the amphibian fossil-bearing Cheese Bay shrimp-bed near North Berwick, were removed illegally in a matter of hours by a collector using a mechanical digger.
Metal detecting can strip the upper parts of archaeological sites of many of the diagnostic metal items, bring in the bulldozers and mechanical excavators and the deeper areas are available for further damage. Reckless artefact hunting even if the digging is done by hand is a major threat to our understanding of the human past in many regions of the world., 'Fossil looters raid ‘dinosaur isle’...', 19 November 2011

Vignette: Ammonite, Ludwigia Sp. cf Cosmi. Bearrerig Bay, Skye (eBay)

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