Action Taken to Safeguard Fossils In Scotland

The Isle of Wight off the coast of southern England might be regarded by some as Britain’s “Dinosaur Isle” but the United Kingdom does in fact have several contenders for this accolade.  Travel north of the border into Scotland to the Inner Hebrides and you might find the residents of the Isle of Skye taking issue with such claims.  However, the island’s rich fossil heritage has been under threat with unscrupulous fossil collectors damaging important scientific sites in their quest to obtain rare vertebrate specimens.

Everything Dinosaur team members reported on the sad case of “fossil vandalism” back in 2011: Important Fossil Site is Vandalised

Steps are being taken to help protect Scotland’s fossil heritage and local people on the Inner Hebrides are being asked to volunteer as wardens to help watch over and safeguard sites that are important to geology and palaeontology.  The Isle of Skye may seem like an unlikely place to find dinosaurs and fossils of other Mesozoic vertebrates, but back in the Jurassic, this part of the world was joined up with the land mass that was later to become the western United States.  Rocks laid down in the Middle Jurassic are exposed on the Isle of Skye and in the U.S. States such as Utah, Colorado and Wyoming – parts of America famed for their Jurassic aged dinosaur fossils.

‘To view Everything Dinosaur’s article explaining the importance of the Isle of Skye and its links to the western United States: Question!  What do the Isle of Skye and the State of Wyoming have in Common?

Scotland did introduce a national fossil hunting code back in 2008.  Most fossil hunters and amateur palaeontologists follow this code when collecting fossils, however, there are those who simply see an opportunity to hack into the relatively deserted cliffs and gullies on Scottish islands in a bid to find fossilised bones of vertebrates which then can be sold to private collectors.  A public meeting was held at Portree (Isle of Skye), this week which involved representatives from Scottish National Heritage (SNH), National Museums Scotland, The Hunterian Museum and the Highland Council with the aim of setting up a network of wardens to help record and protect important fossil sites.  With a managed approach to these important fossil sites, it is hoped that more fossil collectors will visit Scotland, especially the Isle of Skye and neighbouring islands, boosting tourism and the local economy.

Skye and the nearby island of Raasay have a rich geological heritage spanning the last three billion years of Earth’s history.  Fossil remains of plants and animals record the evolution of life .  They also record the fascinating journey of the area we now know as Skye and Raasay, as it drifted for hundreds of millions of years across the face of the Earth, from once being part of America to now being part of the western edge of Europe.

Commenting on the plan to form local action groups to protect the beaches, Dr. Colin MacFadyen of Scottish National Heritage stated:

“Skye and Raasay have a fantastic fossil heritage, and kids and amateur fossil hunters should be encouraged to collect.  But at the same time something has to be done about irresponsible collecting and to reduce examples where people for whatever reasons damage fossil localities and important fossils.   This is where the local community can get involved and help secure their threatened natural heritage.  Local action may ensure that rare fossil finds are rescued, recorded and saved for the nation.  The public meeting in Portree will encourage local people to play an important part in safeguarding and promoting an internationally significant asset.”

Dr. Nick Fraser, Keeper of Natural Sciences at National Museums Scotland commented:

“We are excited by the opportunities to work together to bring Skye’s remarkable fossil heritage into greater prominence.  This is a precious resource which, with support from the wider community, will benefit generations of islanders.”

Plans to Protect Scotland’s Fossil Heritage

The Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur explained the importance of the Isle of Skye fossil sites, stating:

“Only a few places in the world have exposed strata dated to the Middle Jurassic that contain vertebrate body and trace fossils preserved within them.  The Isle of Skye is one such location and the fossils found here and on neighbouring islands have helped palaeontologists to understand more about the fauna and flora of our planet around 170 million years ago.  It is vitally important that such fossil bearing sites are protected, whilst at the same time striking a balance to help encourage tourism to boost the economy.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the contribution of a press release from Scottish National Heritage in the compilation of this article.

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