Locals’ views sought on fossils designation in Skye

THE views of residents in Staffin and Trotternish on a proposed new designation to help protect fossils – including the hugely popular dinosaur footprints in An Corran – are being sought by a government agency.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has proposed that a “Nature Conservation Order” (NCO) to protect fossils finds is introduced. It comes after police investigated an alleged attempt by a campervan driver to make casts of the footprints, which are 165 million years old, last Christmas.

There was no criminal offence but the incident sparked national media coverage, such is the high profile of the footprints, which attract thousands of people each year to Staffin Beach. SNH’s Colin MacFadyen said the conservation agency was keen to do all it could to protect important finds in Staffin, but stressed the proposed designation would not restrict access for local people or holidaymakers. 

“Fossil remains of dinosaurs, and other vertebrates, dating from the Middle Jurassic (175-160 million years ago), are globally rare,” he said. “Some coastal beaches and cliffs locations in Skye have been identified where such remains occur notably in the north-east of the island in Staffin and north of Elgol, in the south. These fossils are therefore of major international significance. Natural erosion reveals the fossils which become exposed and may be found in the exposed bedrock and in water-washed beach deposits.

“In recent years there have been incidents in Skye where dinosaur fossil remains have been hammered and fragmented by amateur collecting, or perhaps even damaged intentionally. As each and every dinosaur fossil could provide vital information on the evolution of these animals, vertebrates generally and Skye’s Middle Jurassic ecosystems, it is important to try and safeguard them. 

“A Nature Conservation Order is proposed to protect ‘vertebrate ‘trace’ fossils (tracks and/or individual footprints) and associated vertebrate ‘body’ fossils (such as bones and teeth’. However, given that fossil material is continually coming to light, and scientific research is ongoing, a mechanism is being sought ensure that dinosaur fossil material will continue to be collected for research and public exhibition. This would be consented collecting operated by means of a permit system.”

An Corran: site of dinosaur footprints.

The NCO will not affect land management and public access to the areas affected. Its only manifestation on the ground may be signage located at established access points to stretches of coastline. SNH will prepare the case for the NCO, under the provisions in the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004, with the Order being made, hopefully as soon as it can be managed, by the Scottish Government.

SNH would like to hear the views and concerns, if any, of those who consider they may be affected by the proposed NCO. For further information please contact Mr MacFadyen by 5pm on Thursday, September 7. Either e-mail Colin.macfadyen@snh.gov.uk or phone: 0131 316 2616.

In 2015, Mr MacFadyen helped set up a scheme aimed at protecting important fossils finds in Skye. Staffin Community Trust and Staffin Museum become members of The Skye Fossil Communication Loop.

The loop’s objective is to help ensure that important and freshly exposed fossil material on Skye’s coastline is rescued, researched, adequately safeguarded and secured for public exhibition. The loop may also have an important role in reporting any incidents of collecting which has damaged fossils. It is hoped that local residents and visitors to the Staffin area would contact SCT and the museum in those scenarios with the loop to be advertised. That information would then be shared with the rest of the loop, which includes National Museums Scotland, The Hunterian Museum, the Scottish Government, Highland Council rangers and Portree Police Station. Police Scotland’s involvement would enable action to be taken when a suspected offence has been committed.

Procedural guidance, derived from the Scottish Fossil Code, has been prepared for amateur fossil enthusiasts/collectors and the general public and can be read via the SNH website at http://www.snh.gov.uk/protecting-scotlands-nature/safeguarding-geodiversity/protecting/skye-fossils/